Saudi women watching a horse race in the capital Riyadh. Picture: AFP / FAYEZ NURELDINE
Saudi women watching a horse race in the capital Riyadh. Picture: AFP / FAYEZ NURELDINE

‘Unprecedented’ death penalty for female activist

PROSECUTORS in Saudi Arabia are seeking the death penalty for five human rights activists, including a woman who is believed to be the first female campaigner in the country facing execution.

According to Saudi activists and Human Rights Watch, Israa al-Ghomgham is among those being targeted, a Shia activist who was arrested with her husband in 2015.

If the execution proceeds, Saudi groups say she will be the first female human rights defender to be put to death in the Saudi kingdom.

Ms Ghomgham, 29, will be tried in the country's terrorism tribunal, along with the four other detained Eastern Province activists, even though charges she faces are solely related to peaceful activism, Human Rights Watch said.

"Any execution is appalling, but seeking the death penalty for activists like Israa al-Ghomgham, who are not even accused of violent behaviour, is monstrous," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

"Every day, the Saudi monarchy's unrestrained despotism makes it harder for its public relations teams to spin the fairy tale of 'reform' to allies and international business."

HRW warned that it set "a dangerous precedent for other women activists currently behind bars" in the Gulf kingdom.

Ms Ghomgham's charges - that "do not resemble recognisable crimes", according to HRW - include "participating in protests", "chanting slogans hostile to the regime", "attempting to inflame public opinion" and "filming protests and publishing on social media".

Ms Ghomgham is a Shia activist well known for participating in and documenting mass demonstrations from as early as 2011, protesting the systematic discrimination that Saudi Shia citizens face in the majority-Sunni nation.

She and her husband, Moussa al-Hashem, were arrested during a night raid in December, 2015 and have been held in Dammam's al-Mabahith prison ever since.

Supporters of Ms Ghomgham have released a photo on Twitter which they say shows her as a young girl.

Amnesty International is calling for authorities to drop Ms Ghomgham's death sentence.

"Israa al-Ghomgam and four other individuals are now facing the most appalling possible punishment simply for their involvement in anti-government protests," said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East Director of Campaigns.

"We are urging the Saudi Arabian authorities to drop these plans immediately."

The activist's next court date is set for 28 October.


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