Two women in Saudi Arabia have been given draconian jail sentences for their posts on social media.
A terrorism court jailed Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani for 45 years after she criticised Saudi leaders.
She was accused of “using the internet to tear the social fabric” and “violating public order by using social media.”
Independent investigators say she made no reference to violence.
Abdullah Alaoudh, director of research for the Gulf region at human rights group Dawn told the BBC: “The charges against her are really broad. They are using the counter-terrorism law and the anti-cybercrime law that can criminalise any posting that is even remotely critical of the government.”
Salma al-Shehab, a Saudi PhD student at Leeds University, was jailed for 34 years for having a Twitter account and for following and retweeting dissidents and activists.
She was arrested while on holiday in Saudi Arabia in January 2021 and found guilty of “providing succour to those seeking to disrupt public order” and “publishing false and tendentious rumours”.
The Guardian reports that before leaving England, the 34-year-old mother of two had called for reforms and the release of prominent activists and intellectuals imprisoned under a crackdown on dissent overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The news outlet points out a Saudi sovereign wealth fund has a major indirect stake in Twitter.
Several other female activists have reportedly been detained in relation to social media posts since last year.
Dawn’s Abdullah Alaoudh fears they could also be handed lengthy prison sentences because “The Saudi government is sending a strong signal to the West that it does not care about human rights.”
Todd Nettleton from Christian persecution watchdog The Voice of the Martyrs told Mission Network News it’s proof Saudi Arabia isn’t a free country.
“Both of these sentences are good reminders that even though Saudi Arabia is trying to present itself as kind of reformed, kind of new and modern, there are still these draconian restrictions on the people of Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“Whether it be Jamal Khashoggi, whether it be the treatment of women or the treatment of Christians, Saudi Arabia is not a free country. It is not a place where the human rights of every person are respected and upheld.”
Mr. Nettleton especially called for prayer for Saudi Christian women who are often vulnerable and spiritually isolated because they cannot be seen to contact other believers.