The Saudi judiciary recently issued prison sentences of 35 and 45 years for Saudi women, on charges related to publications on social media, which raises questions about the repercussions of the lengthy prison sentences on the Kingdom’s efforts to walk the path of openness on several levels.
This August, the Saudi judiciary issued prison sentences for Noura Al-Qahtani and Salma Al-Shehab, because of their activities on social media.
Dr. Madawi Al-Rasheed, a visiting professor at the University of London and spokeswoman for the “National Assembly” party, described the sentences issued against Al-Qahtani and Al-Shehab as “unfair and cruel.”
She added in an interview with Al-Hurra that these provisions “reflect the brutality of the regime, which wants to make these activists, or even those who have no history of political activity, an example to others, and teach society a lesson that there is no protected person that the police cannot reach.” “.
While the Saudi writer and political analyst, Mubarak Al-Ati, believes that “the state has rearranged its regular and judicial procedures. Such provisions, I believe, come within the organizations enacted by the state to rearrange its judicial structure derived from Islamic Sharia.”
Al-Ati adds that “these provisions are internal, decided by the judiciary to achieve security and peace,” noting that “the Kingdom has become today a state of institutions and has become regulating everything that is published inside Saudi Arabia or everything that is published about the Kingdom or that affects the Kingdom or Saudi society.”
He stressed that the rulings against the two women came “within the new regulations enacted by the state that actually protect the rights of everyone and protect the rights of the entire society and the prestige of the state and order.”
He added, “There are clear penalties against anyone who misuses electronic publishing, whether inside the Kingdom or outside the Kingdom, and he intends to go to Saudi society and holds Saudi citizenship. He should expect that the system will be applied to him.”
The Saudi embassy in Washington and the Saudi Ministry of Justice did not respond to Al Hurra’s request for comment.
Al-Qahtani was sentenced to 45 years in prison
Recently, Noura Al-Qahtani was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Court documents and human rights organizations stated that the charges against her relate to her use of social media, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed the documents, on Wednesday.
On charges of “ripping the social fabric” .. Saudi Arabia, Noura Al-Qahtani, was imprisoned for 45 years
A Saudi terrorism court has sentenced another Saudi citizen to several decades in prison, after convicting her of using social media to “violate public order,” according to court documents seen by a rights group.
The agency indicated that there are not many details about Noura bint Saeed Al-Qahtani, who hails from one of the largest clans in Saudi Arabia, and she also has no history of political activity.
The Appeals Chamber of the Specialized Criminal Court issued a 45-year prison sentence against Al-Qahtani, according to the terrorism and cybercrime laws.
The Associated Press indicated that the same court, which usually considers political and national security cases, issued the ruling during Al-Qahtani’s appeal against a previous ruling.
Al-Qahtani was convicted of “disrupting the social fabric” and “dispersing social cohesion,” according to the list of charges reviewed by the Associated Press, which was based on her activities on social media, and claimed that she “harmed public order through information networks.”
Saudi officials did not respond to the agency’s request for comment.
Salma Al-Shehab.. 35 years behind bars
The announcement of the verdict against Al-Qahtani came after a similar case against women’s rights activist Salma Al-Shehab, who received a 35-year prison sentence.
In the case of the meteor, the mother of two children who was studying at the British University of Leeds, she was initially sentenced to six years in prison for the “crime” of using an Internet site “to stir up public disturbances and disturb security”, but the Court of Appeal issued another sentence of 34 years in prison, followed by a travel ban. Also for 34 years, after the attorney general asked the court to look into other alleged crimes, according to the Washington Post.
The American newspaper stated that the Saudi authorities detained Al-Shehab in January of 2021, and sentenced her to 6 years in prison on charges of using social media to “disrupt public order and destabilize the security and stability of the state” via Twitter, after she demanded the release of Loujain Al-Hathloul, the activist who defended Women’s right to drive.
According to the “Washington Post”, Al-Shehab said in the appeals sessions that she used her real name through social media and that the background of her activities on the platforms was “peaceful”, and she complained about her being held in solitary confinement for 285 days, but the prosecution considered that she should also be held accountable under special anti-terrorism laws. and cybercrime laws.
AFP reported that the authorities arrested Al-Shehab in Saudi Arabia while she was on leave from her university studies in Britain.
A close friend of the Saudi activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Al-Shehab did not take threats to report her to security “seriously”.
She said Al-Shehab “didn’t think security would take care of someone with less than 2,000 followers.”
Implications of the rulings on the Saudi reform plan
Since Prince Mohammed bin Salman assumed the position of Crown Prince in 2017, the Kingdom has sought to diversify the economy by supporting the entertainment, sports, tourism and other sectors, with the aim of stopping the historical dependence on oil.
This resulted in tendencies towards reforming the system and promoting the role of women to show the change taking place in the Kingdom’s social path.
Al-Ati considered that the issuance of these rulings “never contradicts the enlightenment and development steps and the great change brought about” by the Saudi Crown Prince, noting that Saudi women enjoyed a privileged position during the changes created by the Kingdom.
While Al-Rasheed pointed out that “the developments we are witnessing and the allegations of openness and reform are shattering in front of the brutality of the regime. Is it possible that (Al-Shehab) a student in Britain who interacted with some tweets received 35 years (in prison) and the second, Noor Al-Qahtani, 45 years, is not in the imagination!” “.
Regarding the implications of these provisions on the images of tolerance and openness promoted by Saudi Arabia, Al-Rasheed stated that “it is harmful, but Mohammed bin Salman believes that these provisions show the extent of his independence and that he does not care about world opinion at all, and that he is an independent person who can do with society what he wishes without any A third party has the right to interfere or pressure.
Regarding her opinion of the long period of rule against the two women, Al-Rasheed pointed out that “these rulings indicate the fragility of the (Saudi) regime and how it is not afraid only of the word, but of re-spreading the word. It wants to teach society a lesson, that no one is protected and that the state is in its hand. It affects everyone, and its spying devices reach everyone until it spreads terror and fear, and until society is completely silent, and that everyone is under the control of the state.”
She added that the judiciary in the Kingdom “has reached a stage of degeneration and has become a tool in the hands of the authority.”
For his part, Saudi analyst, Ahmed Al Ibrahim, believes that the sentence is appropriate according to the charges, noting that the case goes beyond mere publications on social media, and that it “concerns national security.”
Al Ibrahim said that “the judiciary is separate and has a separate authority from the ruling, so the judges decided to grant these rulings to commensurate with the crimes committed” by these two women. Saudi national security.
Use of “arbitrary laws”
“Just weeks after the horrific sentence handed down this month of Salma Al-Shehab to 34 years in prison, Al-Qahtani’s prison sentence comes to light,” Abdullah Al-Odah, director of Gulf research at Democracy Now for the Arab World (DAWN), based in Washington, DC, said in a statement. 45, apparently just for tweeting her views, how daring the Saudi authorities are to punish even the slightest criticism from their own citizens.
Al-Awda stated, “In both the Al-Shehab and Al-Qahtani cases, the Saudi authorities used arbitrary laws to target and punish Saudi citizens for criticizing the government on Twitter.”
“But that is only half the story because even the crown prince himself would not allow such retaliatory and excessive judgments if he felt that these measures would be met with serious scrutiny by the United States and other Western governments. They clearly do not.”
For its part, the US State Department confirmed, on Wednesday, that the United States is studying the meteor issue.
The US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, stated that the US administration informed Saudi Arabia of its “deep concerns” about the verdict against Al-Shehab.
“Exercising freedom of expression to defend women’s rights should not be criminalized, it should never be criminalized,” Price told reporters.
There was no US comment yet on the ruling against Al-Qahtani.
Washington comments on the sentencing of a Saudi activist to 34 years in prison
“Exercising freedom of expression to defend women’s rights should not be criminalized, it should never be criminalized,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
Bethany Al-Haidari, who is in charge of the Saudi section of the Washington-based Freedom Initiative, said in a statement upon Al-Shehab’s ruling that “Saudi Arabia has bragged to the world about their improvement of women’s rights and implementation of judicial reforms. But there is no doubt that this ruling It is unfortunate that the situation is only getting worse.”
Al-Haidari called for “the release of Salma, and to ensure that her two sons do not grow up without a mother, simply because she called for the liberation of human rights activists.”
Al-Haidari stated that Al-Hathloul, who is said to have been imprisoned for tweeting about Al-Shehab, was released weeks after Al-Shehab’s arrest.
She noted that, “Despite the celebration of Loujain’s release, Salma remained behind bars after calling for that release. It is a pattern taken by the Saudi authorities, to ensure that Saudi women activists cannot celebrate or take any credit for their difficult victory.”