Saudi Arabia: NPWJ firmly condemns extreme prison sentences against women’s rights activists for using social media to express their opinions

9 Feb, 2022 | Press Releases

No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) firmly condemns the astonishing prison sentences handed down against Saudi women’s rights activists Salma al-Shehab and Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani, whose only “crime” was to advocate openly and peacefully on Twitter for the respect of human rights and meaningful democratic reforms in their country.

Salma al-Shehab, a Leeds University PhD candidate, was arrested while on holiday in Saudi Arabia in January 2021 and initially sentenced to six years behind bars in mid-2022. Following an appeal at the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) on 9 August 2022, a judge raised her sentence to 34 years in prison after a grossly unfair trial, to be followed by a 34-year travel ban from the date of her release. A few weeks after,Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani was convicted to 45 years in prison by the SCC’s Appellate Division for “using the internet to tear the social fabric” and “violating the public order by using social media”, according to a court document received by rights group Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), making it the harshest sentence ever issued against a women’s rights activist in the kingdom. 

Al-Shehab and al-Qahtani should have never been detained in the first place. These alleged acts upon which the charges against her were based are in no way recognisable criminal offences under international human rights law. Rather, they involved the peaceful exercise of internationally protected rights to freedom of expression to promote and protect human rights and advocate for a fair and just democratic political system in Saudi Arabia.

These shocking rulings leave no room for any doubt that the Saudi authorities are determined to use all means they deem necessary – including sham and shameful justice – to criminalise free speech and suppress any peaceful dissonant voices. It further dramatically demonstrates that the Saudi regime’s ambitious claims of reform are purely rhetoric and part of a smokescreen strategy used to cover the real face of an escalating and systematic campaign of repression against prominent human rights defenders, women activists, lawyers, journalists, writers and bloggers that has intensified since Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman came to power in June 2017.

It is way past time for the international community, and the European Union in particular, to reconsider, at a fundamental level, their relationship with a leadership whose behaviour resembles that of a rogue regime. Failure to do so is, in reality, siding with tyranny and total disrespect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

For further information, please contact Nicola Giovannini, Press & Public Affairs Coordinator on