Saudi Arabia: UK student and seven others on hunger strike against 'sham' detention

Saudi Arabia: UK student and seven others on hunger strike against 'sham' detention
Salma al-Shehab, a UK PhD student who was sentenced to decades in a Saudi prison, has gone on hunger strike with seven others to protest against her detention and 'sham trial'.
2 min read
29 March, 2023
Amnesty International said Saudi Arabia 'targeted individuals for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression' [source: Getty]

UK university student Salma al-Shehab and seven other Saudi women have been on hunger strike since 23 March in protest against their "detention and sham trial", a human rights group said on Tuesday. 

The 34-year-old mother of two was arrested in January 2021 after she returned to Saudi Arabia for a holiday while studying for a PhD at Leeds University. She was subjected to months of interrogation over tweets that were mildly critical of authorities. 

The Leeds University student was given a 34-year prison term in August 2022, which was later reduced to 27 years in January 2023. 

"Show your support - call on Saudi Arabia’s authorities to #FreeSalma and the women now," the ALQST for Human Rights group tweeted. 

"This is yet another example of Saudi authorities' relentless crackdown on free speech, especially since mid-2022, and exposes the farcical nature of the Saudi court system," said ALQST's Head of Monitoring and Advocacy Lina Alhathloul.

"Despite the charges against al-Shehab relating solely to her peaceful activism, she has been tried under the Counter-Terrorism Law," she said.

Freedom House, a US human rights watchdog, also called for al-Shehab's release on Wednesday after hearing about the hunger strike. 

The NGO said it welcomed efforts by US Congresspeople Jamie Raskin and Nancy Mace "to denounce Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s jailing of Saudi citizens simply for expressing themselves online". 

However, Amnesty International in their latest 2022 report accused the international community of "deafening silences" when it comes to human rights violations in Saudi Arabia compared to their collective response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. 

Last year, the Gulf kingdom sentenced at least 15 individuals, both citizens and foreign nationals, to between 15 and 45 years in prison after "grossly unfair trials for their peaceful expression or association", said Amnesty. 

The global human rights group condemned Saudi authorities for harassing human rights defenders and resorting to the death penalty, including in cases where individuals were children at the time of the alleged crime.