Saudi Arabian court sentences woman to 45 years in prison over social media posts

A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a woman to almost half a century in prison for allegedly harming the country through her social media activity.

Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani, who hails from one of the biggest tribes in Saudi Arabia and has no apparent history of activism, was sentenced to 45 years in prison after being accused by a judge of "disrupting the cohesion of society" and "destabilizing the social fabric" via social media.

The judge also ruled that al-Qahtani "offended the public order through the information network."

It remains unclear what al-Qahtani posted online or where her hearing was held. She was taken into custody on July 4, 2021, according to the Washington-based human rights watchdog Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), which is critical of the kingdom.

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"This seems like the beginning of a new wave of sentences and convictions by new judges who have been placed in the specialized criminal court," Abdullah Alaoudh, Research Director for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at DAWN, said about the case.

Alaoudh says that al-Qahtani was jailed for "simply tweeting her opinions."

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"It is impossible not to connect the dots between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s meeting with President Biden last month in Jeddah and the uptick in the repressive attacks against anyone who dares criticize the crown prince or the Saudi government for well-documented abuses," Alaoudh told The Guardian.

The sentencing of al-Qahtani comes two weeks after Saudi Arabia sentenced 33-year-old Salma al-Shehab to 34 years in prison after the Saudi government concluded that she used her social media platform "to disrupt public order, undermine the security of society and stability of the state, and support those who had committed criminal actions according to the counterterrorism law and its financing."

The social media sentences have renewed attention on Prince Mohammed’s crackdown on dissent, even as the Islamic nation has granted women new freedoms like the right to drive.

Associated Press contributed to this report

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