Saudi court sentences activist to decade in prison over social media posts 

The sentencing of Abdullah Jelan continues the trend of long-term imprisonment of people critical or vocal on social media about freedom and rights in Saudi Arabia

November 15, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Saudi activist Abdullah Jelan
Abdullah Jelan. (Photo: ALQST/Twitter)

Abdullah Jelan (30), a Saudi citizen, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a 10-year-travel ban by a specialized criminal court in Saudi Arabia last month. This is the latest case of a rights activist being sentenced to a long-term prison sentence over social media posts on issues such as unemployment, freedom of speech, and women’s rights. 

UK-based human rights group ALQST stated that despite Jelan’s ‘peaceful activism’, he was sentenced last month by a specialized criminal court which focuses on terrorism cases, Middle East Eye reported.  

Jelan was arrested without a warrant by the Saudi authorities on May 22, 2021, upon his arrival from the US where he was studying public health. He was allegedly tortured inside prison and not allowed to contact his family. Charges against him were revealed only after a complaint was filed by the UN working group on enforced disappearances. The Saudi authorities replied to the complaint in July, almost three months after his arrest, saying that Jelan was arrested under the Combating Terrorism and Financing of Terrorism Act of 2017.   

According to the statement issued by ALQST and dozens of other human rights groups in October, Jelan’s arrest was part of a large-scale crackdown on young activists and human rights supporters in Saudi Arabia carried out in May-June 2021. There are around 14 such activists, including Lina al-Sharif, Najwa al-Humaid, and Abdulrahman al-Sheikhi, who were arrested during this period and who are still in detention inside Saudi prisons facing long prison sentences.  

ALQST claimed that Jelan’s sentencing raises fear about the future of dozens of other such activists who have “disappeared” or were arrested without warrant in Saudi Arabia. 

The statement notes that “such practices are grave violations of international human rights standards, and the kingdom’s own laws.”

Saudi courts have in the past harshly sentenced activists for their Twitter posts. For example, two women’s rights activists, Salma al-Shehab and Nourah al-Qahtani, were sentenced to 34 and 45 years in prison, respectively, for their social media posts in August this year. 

In September, Tunisian nurse Mahdia Marzougui was sentenced by the same court for 15 years on similar grounds. 

In several such cases, the courts of appeal have increased the sentences given by lower courts. This often raises questions about the independence of law enforcement agencies in a country where human rights activists have regularly faced state persecution