The punishment handed down to Salma al-Shehab is the longest known sentence to be given to a women’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia, according to the US non-profit Freedom Initiative, which advocates on behalf of wrongly-detained prisoners in the region.
The 34-year-old, who has two young children, was arrested in January last year during a trip home to see her family.
The PhD student was initially sentenced to six years in prison, but the country’s Specialised Criminal Court significantly increased her prison term on Monday, following her appeal against her conviction.
The mother-of-two received an additional 28 years in prison for “assisting those who seek to cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts”, according to court documents.
Saudi Arabia has also given her a 34-year travel ban, which will begin once she leaves prison. Under the terms of her new sentence, Ms al-Shehab will only be allowed to travel out of the country again if she lives to be 102 years old.
A University of Leeds spokesperson told The Independent: “We are deeply concerned to learn of this recent development in Salma’s case and we are seeking advice on whether there is anything we can do to support her.
“Our thoughts remain with Salma, her family, and her friends among our close-knit community of postgraduate researchers.”
Hala Dosari, a Saudi activist, said the punishment was “irrational, heartbreaking, and disastrous for the hundreds of women detained or to be detained on similar charges of supporting rights or freedom”.
“This is also reflective of an increased regime insecurity, both domestically and abroad,” she added.
Khalid Aljabri, a Saudi who lives in exile, told the Guardian that Ms al-Shehab’s sentence was part of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) “ruthless” crackdown on dissent.
”Her sentencing is intended to send shockwaves inside and outside the kingdom,” he said.
The draconian punishment comes shortly after US president Joe Biden was criticised for travelling to Saudi Arabia to meet the crown prince and his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz.