Saudi Arabia Jails Fatima Al-Shawarbi 30 Years For Criticizing Neom On Twitter

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Saudi Arabia imprisoned a woman for 30 years for criticizing the Neom megacity project on Twitter, according to an activist group.

ALQST, a UK-based human rights group, said a Saudi court sentenced Fatima al-Shawarbi to 30 years during a recent appeal hearing.

She is in her 20s and from Al-Ahsa province, the group said.

The Saudi justice system is cloaked in secrecy, often leaving activist groups as the only sources of information about cases.

ALQST said that it relies on its contacts for information, and needed to keep their identities secret for fear of reprisals. Officials at the Saudi embassy in London did not respond to Insider’s request for information

ALQST said al-Shawarbi was convicted over anonymous tweets in which she criticized Saudi Arabia’s treatment of people forcibly removed from their homes to make way for the construction of the planned city.

It said she was arrested in 2020. Per the group, she also criticized Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, and called for a constitutional monarchy rather than the system of absolute rule that now exists.

Human Rights Watch in a 2020 report said that imprisoned female dissidents are often refused contact with family members and those in the outside world.

Lina Alhathloul, a researcher at ALQST, told Insider that al-Shawarbi had recently joined a hunger strike with several other women prisoners.

They include Salma al-Shehab, a Leeds University PhD student arrested in 2020 for criticizing the Saudi government on Twitter. Al-Shawarbi’s current condition is unknown, said Alhathloul.

Alhathoul said it was not known how Saudi authorities managed to establish that al-Shawarbi wrote the critical tweets.

She said she al-Shawarbi told friends to raise the alarm and publicize her case if she fell silent on social media for a prolonged period.

Neom is the signature project of Saudi Arabia’s autocratic leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The crown prince plans to construct the city across a 10,200 square mile area in the Tabuk Province in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

The UN in an April report said Saudi Arabia was trampling human rights in its push to complete the project, forcibly evicting thousands of the local Huweitat tribe from their homes.

The report said that Saudi security services shot dead tribe member Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti as he resisted eviction in 2020, and that three other members of the tribe who resisted eviction were sentenced to death.

Saudi authorities have also ruthlessly persecuted those who’ve criticised the treatment of the Huweitat, and the killing of al-Huwaiti, said Alhathloul.

Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for its human rights record, with Amnesty International saying the state uses torture, arbitrary arrests and detainment, and violation of the rights to free speech and free assembly.

Despite criticism from human rights groups, Saudi Arabia continues to attract wealthy Western companies to invest in Neom.