Coach John talks about a Saudi woman serving 27 years in prison for re-tweeting in favour of free speech

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Useful Vocabulary

  1. PhD: (n) an abbreviation of Doctor of Philosophy
  2. dissent: (n) difference of thinking or opinion;
  3. disagreement
  4. Shi’a: (n) one of the two main branches of Islam, followed by about a tenth of Muslims, especially in Iran
  5. draconian: (adj) unusually severe or cruel laws and punishment.
  6. stake: (n) an investment in business, with the hope of financial gain
  7. unrest: (n) political disturbance or turmoil; agitation
  8. sportswashing: (n) the use of sport by an individual or a government, a corporation, or another group to promote or burnish the individual’s or group’s reputation, especially amid controversy or scandal.


Saudi prisoner Salma al-Shehab, is currently serving 27 years in prison solely for the ‘crime’ of posting tweets in support of Saudi prisoners of conscience. 

Salma al-Shehab, a 34-year-old mother of two children and Leeds University PhD student, was arrested on 15 January 2021 while on holiday in Saudi Arabia, and subjected to solitary confinement and lengthy sessions of questioning over a period of nine and a half  months before being brought before the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC), a court used as an instrument of repression to silence dissent in the kingdom. 

She belongs to the country’s Shi’a Muslim minority, who have long suffered from the government’s repression. Salma was sentenced to 27 years in prison under the draconian Counter-Terrorism Law, for posting tweets in support of Saudi prisoners of conscience such as women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul.

The case marks the latest example of how the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has targeted Twitter users in his campaign of repression, while simultaneously controlling a major indirect stake in the US social media company through Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

Salma was initially sentenced to serve three years in prison for the “crime” of using an internet website to “cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security”. But an appeals court on handed down the new sentence – 34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban – after a public prosecutor asked the court to consider other alleged crimes. The prison sentence and travel ban were later reduced to 27 years on appeal. 

According to a translation of the court records,, the charges included the allegation that Shehab was “assisting those who seek to cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts” and by re-tweeting their tweets. 

The same regime which has condemned Salma to 27 years in prison for advocating in favour of free speech on Twitter also owns Newcastle United Football Club, which play in the city where I am from. Find out what my fellow football fans are doing to support women like Salma on page 2…

  1. Who is Salma al-Shehab?
  2. How long is the sentence she is serving? Do you think it is draconian?
  3. What was her ‘crime’?
  4. Who is Mohammed Bin Salman?
  5. Which football club does Mohammed Bin Salman have a stake in?
  6. Explain the concept ‘sportswashing’ (See page 2)
  7. Does ‘sportswashing’ exist here? Give examples. 
  8. Watch this news item about NUFCFAS: Do you recognise anyone? What do they talk about in the video?