Riyadh, 34-year jail term to student for a tweet. Record number of executions.

Salma al-Shehab was arrested in January 2021, upon returning to the country, for sharing pro-democracy posts. The young woman is charged with disturbing public order and spreading "false rumors." The number of people executed spikes in 2022, in the first six months already 120. Activists fear surpassing the 186 executions-a record number-occurred in 2019.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - Saudi authorities have sentenced a young woman to 34 years in jail for relaying on her Twitter account messages from activists calling for greater freedoms and sharing posts in favor of women's right to drive. A doctoral student at the University of Leeds-the university itself intervened expressing "deep concern" over the matter-Salma al-Shehab (pictured) was arrested in January 2021 on her way back to Saudi Arabia for a short vacation. These days the ruling, which fuels the issue of rights and freedoms in the country, in spite of Mohammad bin Salman's (Mbs.) "reformist" proclamations. 

Sources close to the matter explain that the student, before returning to her home country, had expressed her desire for reforms in Saudi Arabia and the release of activists locked up in prison. Pro-human rights groups speak of a "harsh sentence" that belies proclamations by authorities in Riyadh that the rights and freedom situation in the kingdom is steadily improving. Issuing the sentence was an anti-terrorism court, which held Shebab responsible for fomenting dissent to "disturb public order" and fueling "false rumors." 

Pro-human rights associations point out that this is "the longest prison sentence" ever imposed against a "peaceful activist." The young woman belongs to the Shiite minority, in a nation with a very large Sunni majority, and describes herself on social media as a dental hygienist and educator. Her Instagram account-which has 2,700 followers-has not been updated since Jan. 12, 2021, three days before the date of her alleged arrest in Saudi Arabia. In addition to 34 years in prison, upon release she will not be allowed to leave the country or travel abroad for another 34 years. 

In addition to imposing heavy sentences on activists and civil society figures, Riyadh in the past year has decisively armed the executioner's hand by spiking the number of executions. According to data from the Saudi Organization for Human Rights (Esohr), the Wahhabi kingdom could surpass the record number of death sentences (186 in total) carried out in 2019. In the first half of 2022, in fact, executions hit 120, a figure already almost double the 65 recorded last year, in which the Covid-19 pandemic had at least partially limited the number. 

The statistics belie the official version of the authorities, who had pledged to limit the number of executions. Moreover, in many cases capital punishment is also imposed for issues related to pro-rights protests and freedom of expression. Also in the crosshairs of the activist group Esohr are the ways in which trials are conducted, with widespread use of torture and lack of access to legal protection before hearings begin. Last March, Riyadh carried out a mass execution executing 81 people in a single day, a record number even for a state where the use of the death penalty is widespread. Of these, half (41 in total) were members of the Shiite minority.