Publication date: 16/09/2022

Among the unprecedented slew of lengthy sentences recently handed down in the Saudi courts, on 9 August 2022 the Specialised Criminal Court of Appeal sentenced Nourah Saeed al-Qahtani to 45 years in jail and a 45-year travel ban. 

Al-Qahtani, a 49-year old mother of five children, was arrested on 4 July 2021 and was sentenced by the Specialised Criminal Court (of first instance) in February 2022 to a 13-year jail term to be followed on release by a further 13 years of being banned from travelling abroad. The court based its verdict on the charges brought against her, which included “incitement to participate in the activities of those seeking to disrupt public order and undermine the security of society and the stability of the state; posting false and tendentious tweets; supporting the ideology of people seeking to disrupt public order and undermine the security of society and the stability of the state and endanger its unity and following them and retweeting their posts; belonging to a group on Twitter seeking the same end and following them on YouTube”; calling for the release of detainees; and possession of a prohibited book.

On 9 August, however, the SCC Court of Appeal not only upheld the previous verdict but added further charges of “preparing, transmitting and storing material impinging on public order by means of the internet”; and “seeking to undermine the social fabric and national kinship and disrupting society’s cohesion and public order”. The court increased the sentence to 45 years in prison – made up of 43 years based on various articles of the Counter-Terrorism Law, a year based on Article 6 of the Anti-Cybercrime Law, and an extra, discretionary, year added by the judge – and a 45-year travel ban on her release.

Her unjust sentence comes amid a wave of lengthy prison sentences recently passed in the Saudi courts, such as those handed down on activists opposing forcible evictions like Abdulilah al-Huwaiti and Abdullah al-Huwaiti (50 years each); the writer and translator Osama Khaled (32 years); and, on the same day as al-Qahtani’s sentencing, activist and academic Salma al-Shehab (34 years).

All of these sentences have been announced since the July visit to Saudi Arabia of US President Joe Biden, which was shortly followed by French President Emmanuel Macron’s hosting of Crown Prince and de facto Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman in Paris – despite the many warnings from human rights activists and experts that if the crown prince went unpunished for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, and was welcomed back into the international community, the Saudi leadership could be expected to resume its customary pattern of human rights violations.

ALQST’s Head of Monitoring and Communication, Lina Alhathloul, comments: “We are now witnessing a new and worrying phase of abuses in Saudi Arabia. The international community must today, for humanitarian reasons above all else, come up with some way of applying pressure that will put an end to this madness.”

ALQST for Human Rights sees the latest series of lengthy prison sentences as one of the ways in which the Saudi authorities habitually use violence and intimidation against activists. It warns that failure to put international pressure on them will inevitably play a part in increasing both the length and number of further such rulings, just as Bin Salman’s impunity to date for Khashoggi’s murder has led to the opening of a new phase of human rights violations.

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