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Saudi Arabia sentences teenage girl to 18 years in prison over support for political prisoners

September 24, 2023 at 9:20 am

An activist of the human rights NGO Amnesty International takes part in an action in front of the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Brussels on January 8, 2021 [KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images]

Saudi authorities have sentenced a girl of secondary school age to 18 years in prison and imposed a travel ban on her for expressing support of political prisoners online, in one of the latest examples of Riyadh’s harsh crackdown on any form of dissent.

According to ALQST yesterday, a rights group which documents human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Specialised Criminal Court issued the sentence for 18-year-old Manal al-Gafiri in August. She was reportedly 17 at the time of her arrest for tweeting in support of political prisoners in the kingdom.

Her sentencing is yet another example of Saudi authorities’ harsh and extreme prison sentences for citizens found guilty of ‘cybercrimes’ by expressing dissatisfaction with or criticism of the Suadi government over the past six years under the de-facto leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

READ: Saudi Arabia executes more than 100 people this year

Other examples include the 34-year prison sentence handed out to Salma al-Shehab – a doctoral candidate at Leeds University in the UK – over her own critical tweets last year. At times, court rulings even go beyond prison sentences and result in the death sentence, such as the recent death penalty issued against retired teacher Mohammed al-Ghamdi over critical comments he left on YouTube and X, formerly Twitter.

The ALQST’s reporting of schoolgirl Al-Gafiri’s sentencing comes only days after a Fox News interview of the Saudi crown prince showed bin Salman claiming that such harsh sentences are simply a result of “bad laws” that he is unable to change or intervene in.

“We are not happy with that. We are ashamed of that. But [under] the jury system, you have to follow the laws, and I cannot tell a judge [to] do that and ignore the law, because…that’s against the rule of law”, he stated.

Critics have dismissed that claim, however, insisting that as the most powerful and influential figure in the kingdom – who has been able to make vast and drastic social reforms within a rapid amount of time – is wholly able to step in and change the judiciary’s decision if he so willed.

READ: Saudi crown prince: I do not care about ‘sportswashing’ claims