Saudi Arabia calls for death penalty against human rights activist | Saudi Arabia
Saudi prosecutors are calling for the death penalty for five human rights activists, including a woman believed to be the country’s first activist to be executed, human rights groups have said.
Israa al-Ghomgham, a Shiite activist arrested with her husband in 2015, will face trial in the country’s anti-terrorism court even though the charges she faces relate to peaceful activism, Human Rights Watch said.
“Any execution is appalling, but demanding the death penalty for activists like Israa al-Ghomgham, who are not even accused of violent behavior, is monstrous,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East director.
Along with her husband, Moussa al-Hashem, and three other defendants, Ghomgham faces charges that “do not look like recognizable crimes,” HRW said.
These include participating in demonstrations, chanting slogans hostile to the regime, trying to ignite public opinion, filming demonstrations and posting on social networks.
Saudi Shiite citizens face systematic discrimination in the Sunni-majority nation, including barriers to job search and education, and restrictions on religious practice. Ghomgahm had joined and documented the mass protests for Shiite rights that began in 2011 as the Arab Spring swept through the region.
The activist is scheduled to appear in court on October 28, and the trial will cast an additional shadow over Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to present himself as a modernizing reformer.
The youngest ruler of the kingdom in the modern era, the 32-year-old power behind the throne is committed to curb religious extremists, diversify a moribund and oil-dependent economy and liberalize a deeply conservative social order.
He owns canceled some restrictions on women, including a long-standing ban on female drivers, launched economic reforms, allowed cinemas to open for the first time in decades, and jailed some of her most powerful royal relatives in an anti-corruption approach.
But social and economic transformation has gone hand in hand with tighter political controls, as the crown prince has made it clear that he wants the new Saudi Arabia to remain an absolute monarchy, shaped by him alone.
Before lifting the ban on female drivers, the authorities arrested more than a dozen activists who had campaigned for the very change he was bringing. Many are now approaching 100 days in prison without legal representation and are labeled “traitors” by local media.
“If the Crown Prince is really serious about reform, he must immediately step in to ensure that no activist is unfairly detained for his human rights work,” HRW’s Whitson said.
The campaign to muzzle critics has not only been domestic. Saudi Arabia radically cut all ties with Canada after the country’s foreign minister tweeted a call for the release of two jailed activists.
The Canadian ambassador was expelled, Saudi scholarship recipients ordered to leave Canada and new trade and investment suspended. Other countries including Germany and Sweden were also pressured to censor Riyadh.
Women have already been executed in Saudi Arabia, which has one of the highest execution rates in the world: suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking face the death penalty.
But Ghomgham is the first woman to risk execution for activism, and other activists fear this could set a dangerous precedent. She will be tried before the specialized criminal court set up in 2008 for terrorism cases. Kingdom has already executed Shiite activists after trials in same court as Amnesty International described as “grossly unfair”.
The UN has also previously warned that Saudi Arabia is abusing anti-terrorism laws and institutions. suppress dissent.
“I am concerned about the unacceptably broad definition of terrorism and the use of Saudi Arabia’s Counterterrorism Law of 2014 and other national security provisions against human rights defenders, writers, bloggers, journalists and other peaceful critics, ”UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson said after a visit to Saudi Arabia last year.