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US looking into case of Saudi woman sentenced to 34 years for tweets

FILE – In this Aug. 16, 2021 file photio, State Department spokesperson Ned Price speaks during a media briefing at the State Department in Washington.(Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP)

The United States is looking into the case of a Saudi student sentenced to 34 years in prison for her Twitter activity, a State Department spokesperson said Wednesday.

“Exercising freedom of expression to advocate for the rights of women should not be criminalized. It should never be criminalized,” the department’s Ned Price said at a press conference, noting that the U.S. is “studying” the case and sentence.

A PhD student at the United Kingdom’s Leeds University, Salma al-Shehab was arrested last year during a visit to Saudi Arabia, reportedly for Twitter activity critical of the Saudi government.

Al-Shehab may have been flagged to the Saudi government through a crime reporting app, The Guardian wrote on Wednesday, for following and retweeting activists and dissidents.

The court also ruled that her phone and Twitter account must also be confiscated and deleted, according to the Washington Post

“Freedom of expression is a principle that we stand up for around the world. Anytime any government anywhere tramples on such a principle, we speak out and we seek to defend that fundamental right that is as fundamental to individuals in Saudi Arabia as it is to any country around the world,” Price said.

President Biden made a controversial trip to Saudi Arabia earlier this year, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Biden had previously promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over the 2018 murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

Asked whether softening relations between the two countries would give Saudi Arabia license to act with impunity on matters like al-Shehab’s case, Price said Wednesday that recent U.S. engagement, including Biden’s recent visit, “has made clear to our Gulf partners” and the Saudis that “human rights is central to our agenda.”

Tags Biden Jamal Khashoggi Ned Price Ned Price salma al-shehab Saudi Arabia State Department Twitter United States
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