A Saudi Arabian court Tuesday sentenced Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani to 45 years prison for tweeting material the court claimed impinged upon “public order and religious values.” Not many details are known about the case yet. Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a nonprofit organization founded by Saudi Arabian journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi, broke the story and continues to investigate the case.
Al-Qahtani was tried and sentenced by the Appellate Division of the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) under Saudi Arabia’s Counter-Terrorism Law and Anti-Cyber Crime Law for “using the Internet to tear the [country’s] social fabric” and “violating the public order by using social media.” Her sentence comes on the heels of the sentencing of another Saudi woman named Salma Al-Shehab to 34 years in prison, followed by a 34-year travel ban. Like al-Qahtani, Salma Al-Shehab was sentenced for having a Twitter account and retweeting posts from Saudi dissidents and human rights activists.
The SCC was first formed by the Saudi government in 2008 to deal with a backlog of terrorism cases, but it has since become a forum to target minorities and dissenters within Saudi Arabia. According to Amnesty International, the SCC has been used to punish journalists, human rights defenders, political activists, writers, religious clerics and women rights activists. The most frequently cited laws include the Counter-Terrorism Law and Anti-Cyber Crime Law. The Saudi Council of Ministers passed the Counter-Terrorism Law in 2013, and the law took effect in 2014. The law essentially prohibits any behavior that undermines the state or society by labeling the behavior as terrorism. The Anti-Cyber Crime Law was similarly passed in 2007. It prohibits the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, or privacy, through an information network or computer.”