U.N. human rights experts on Friday called for the release of two Saudi Arabian women they say were arbitrarily detained and denied basic rights after tweeting criticism of the kingdom’s policies.
Salma al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in prison and Nourah bin Saeed al-Qahtani was sentenced to 45 years last summer after they were arrested in separate cases in 2021. They were found guilty by a special court originally established to try terror suspects but which has broadened its mandate in recent years amid a heavy crackdown on dissent.
The kingdom’s human rights record has come under heightened scrutiny as it has made major inroads into international sports, attracting some of the world’s top soccer stars and entering into a surprise merger with golf’s PGA Tour.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a panel of independent experts tasked by the U.N. Human Rights Council with investigating possible violations, said in its report that the two women had been denied due process.
The working group said there were “credible” allegations that al-Shehab was “subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” when she was held incommunicado for nearly two weeks after her arrest. It said the Specialized Criminal Court, in which both women were convicted, “cannot be considered an independent and impartial tribunal,” and that the government applied vague and overly broad provisions of its anti-terrorism and cybercrime laws.