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26 Aug, 2018 08:19

Execution by beheading: Saudi Arabia seeks 1st death penalty for female political activist

Execution by beheading: Saudi Arabia seeks 1st death penalty for female political activist

Human rights groups are fighting to save the first female political activist in Saudi Arabia to face the death penalty. Israa al-Ghomgham and five others were arrested during protests in 2015 and may face beheading.

Al-Ghomgham, 29, was arrested along with her husband, Moussa al-Hashem, in December 2015. They were jailed for helping to organize anti-government protests in the kingdom’s eastern province of Qatif. Human rights groups lobbying for al-Ghomgham’s release say that six activists engaged in the peaceful protest in December 2015 have been jailed ever since, following a raid on their home in the middle of the night.

Al-Ghomgham and five fellow protesters were arrested for offences calling for an end to anti-Shia government discrimination in the majority Sunni country, and calling for the release of political prisoners. The six have now been imprisoned for 32 months.

In a hearing at Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) earlier this month, public prosecutors accused the protesters of a string of charges including “participating in protests in the Qatif region,” “incitement to protest,” “chanting slogans hostile to the regime,” “attempting to inflame public opinion,” “filming protests and publishing on social media,” and “providing moral support to rioters.” Activists claim that al-Ghomgham was not given access to a lawyer during the trial.

In the August hearing, prosecutors recommended that al-Ghomgham and her five associates receive the death penalty. Human rights activists are now lobbying for the decision to be changed at an appeal in October. If that fails and the prosecutor’s death penalty recommendation stands, the ruling will be passed on to King Salman, who usually consents to all death penalty proposals.

According to the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, al-Ghomgham is a “well known human rights defender.” The group said in a statement that any decision to execute would set a “dangerous precedent” for female activists in Saudi Arabia – a country that is supposedly becoming more open to women’s rights.

Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch Sarah Leah Whitson called on progressive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to step in to prevent the death penalty ruling. “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,” she said. “If the Crown Prince is truly serious about reform, he should immediately step in to ensure no activist is unjustly detained for his or her human rights work.”

Despite the prince’s attempts at social and economic reform, Human Rights Watch says that a crackdown in recent months on women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia seen at least 13 women arrested under the guise of maintaining national security.

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