Israa al-Ghomgham is among a group of human rights activists who could face the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, according to Human Rights Watch and other Saudi activists. They are being tried in the country’s terrorism tribunal for what their supporters say was peaceful activism.
If Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution office is successful in seeking the death penalty for Ghomgham, Saudi groups say she would be the first female human rights activist to be put to death in the Saudi kingdom.
“Any execution is appalling, but seeking the death penalty for activists like Israa al-Ghomgham, who are not even accused of violent behavior, is monstrous,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “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.”
According to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia uses the death penalty more than almost any other country in the world, with 146 executions reportedly carried out last year. Only China and Iran were thought to have executed more people in 2017.
Ghomgham and five other activists are facing trial in connection with demonstrations in the Shiite-populated parts of the Eastern Province that began in 2011. The demonstrations were held to protest the discrimination that Shiite Muslim citizens face in the predominantly Sunni Muslim kingdom. According to Human Rights Watch, Ghomgham and her husband were arrested on Dec. 6, 2015, and have been held in prison ever since.
Prosecutors were seeking the death penalty against five of the six suspects, according to an indictment obtained by The Washington Post. The allegations against Ghomgam included participating in protests and “provoking” young people to do the same; inciting what the authorities called a “soft revolution;” and traveling to Iran, where prosecutors said she received “theoretical lessons on how to create chaos.” The Saudi government did not immediately respond to questions about her case.
Apart from the cases related to protests in the Shiite-majority areas of Eastern Province, the Saudi government faces growing condemnation for a crackdown on dissidents, including women’s rights advocates. Among the women recently arrested was Nassima al-Sadah, a Shiite Muslim from the eastern city of Qatif, who had tried unsuccessfully to run for local elections there and had sued to lift the kingdom’s long-standing ban on female drivers.