US says it is 'studying' the case of a Saudi student sentenced to 34 years in prison for following and retweeting activists

US says it is 'studying' the case of a Saudi student sentenced to 34 years in prison for following and retweeting activists
State Department spokesman Ned Price.AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool
  • A Saudi woman studying in the UK was given 34 years in prison for following and retweeting dissidents.
  • A State Department spokesperson said the US is "studying" the case and her sentence.

The US is looking into the case of a Saudi woman who was sentenced to 34 years in prison for following and retweeting dissidents on Twitter, the State Department said.

Ned Price, a spokesman for the department, told a Wednesday press conference: "We are studying the case. We are studying the sentence."

Price was also asked whether he had if he had any comment on the case, and whether recent attempts to soothe relations between the US and Saudi Arabia could have emboldened the kingdom to take the step without fearing backlash.

President Joe Biden, who previously vowed to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah" over Jamal Khashoggi's murder, recently visited Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — who was accused of ordering the hit — in an effort to assuage rising US gas prices.

Price did not directly answer the reporter's question, but said: "I can say this as a general matter and I can say this without any caveat, and resolutely: Exercising freedom of expression to advocate for the rights of women should not be criminalized.


"It should never be criminalized. Freedom of expression is a principle that we stand up for around the world. Any time any government anywhere tramples on such a principle, we speak out and we seek to defend that fundamental right.

"That is as fundamental to individuals in Saudi Arabia as it is to any country around the world."

Salma al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban, according to multiple reports, including The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Al-Shehab, who is married with two children, was studying at Leeds University in the UK and went home to Saudi Arabia for a vacation in December 2020 when she was questioned by authorities, arrested, and put on trial, The Guardian reported.

She was given the sentence on Monday, where she was was accused of "assisting those who seek to cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts."


She has less than 3,000 followers.

According to The Guardian, she had retweeted Saudi dissidents who called for political prisoners held in Saudi Arabia to be released. The Post reported that she also advocated for women's right to drive.

Both the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights and Freedom Initiative said al-Shehab's sentence was the longest prison sentence given to an activist, and that its length could signal more crackdowns on dissent.