Riyadh, August 22: Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for five human rights activists, including a female rights defender, rights groups have said.
Israa al-Ghomgham, a Shia activist arrested with her husband in 2015, will be tried in the country’s terrorism tribunal even though charges she faces are only related to peaceful activism, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
Al-Ghomgahm had joined and documented mass protests that began in 2011, calling for an end to the systematic discrimination that Saudi Shia citizens face in the majority-Sunni country.
“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 Human Rights Watch.
The Public Prosecution, which reports directly to the King, accused the detained activists of several charges that do not resemble recognizable crimes, 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.
Saudi activists told Human Rights Watch that the Public Prosecution’s demand makes Al-Ghomgham the first female activist to possibly face the death penalty for her human rights-related work, which sets a dangerous precedent for other women activists currently behind bars.
The trial is scheduled to start October 28. At least 13 human rights defenders and women’s rights activists have been arrested since mid-May. Some have been released, but others remain detained without charge.
Ghomgham and her husband have been held at Dammam’s al-Mabahith prison since 2015. The European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights and ALQST, a London-based Saudi human rights group, have called on the authorities to drop the charges against Ghomgham. The Saudi government has so far not commented on Ghomgham’s trial.