Foreign secretary Liz Truss has been criticised for leaving the case of a UK student jailed in Saudi Arabia for more than three decades using Twitter to her officials.
The Tory leadership frontrunner had been urged to intervene over the case Salma al-Shehab, a 34-year-Leeds University student arrested on a visit to see family at the start of last year.
Labour MP Hillary Benn wrote to Truss calling on her to take up in Ms al-Shehab’s case after her sentence of six years was increased to 34 years this week following an appeal.
But a No 10 spokesperson said on Monday that the UK student’s case had been raised “at official level at the embassy” – but no ministers have been in touch with Saudi counterparts.
Benn said that it was time for Truss – favourite to win the Tory leadership contest – to speak to the Saudi foreign minister about al-Shehab’s lengthy imprisonment.
“As foreign secretary Liz Truss has talked about building a ‘network of liberty’ around the world,” he told The Independent.
Benn said: “I very much hope therefore that she will speak to her opposite number in Saudi Arabia in order to try and secure Salma al-Shehab’s liberty.”
The former Labour cabinet minister added: “No-one should be sent to prison for 34 years for simply expressing their opinions.”
Benn said the sentence was “absolutely shocking sentence”, arguing that it was completely at odds with Saudi Arabia’s claim to be improving human rights.
Leeds University said Ms al-Shehab was a student in the final year of doctoral studies at the medical school, and it was “deeply concerned” to hear about her sentencing.
Saudi authorities accused Ms al-Shehab of “disturbing public order” and “destabilising the social fabric” – claims stemming from her social media activity, according to an official charge sheet.
The authorities alleged Ms al-Shehab followed and retweeted dissident accounts on Twitter and “transmitted false rumours”.
A special court for terrorism and national security crimes handed down the unusually harsh 34-year sentence, which is to be followed by a 34-year travel ban.
It was reported to be the longest-known sentence to be given to a women’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has been approached for comment.