Saudi Arabia Seeks First Death Penalty For Female Women’s Rights Activist

Israa al-Ghomgham, along with four other activists, are facing the death penalty for protesting the monarchy.

A man on a bicycle rides past a street artist's rendition of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz praying.
Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Israa al-Ghomgham, along with four other activists, are facing the death penalty for protesting the monarchy.

Five Eastern Provinces activists, including Israa al-Ghomgham, a female human right’s activist, are facing the death penalty from Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution, reports Human Rights Watch.

Al-Ghomgham and her husband were arrested in a night raid in 2015 and have been detained — for two years — without legal counsel ever since. The female women’s rights activist is known for participating in and documenting mass protests, as well as fighting to end systematic discrimination against the Shia minority in a majority Shiite country, according to Al Jazeera.

An additional activist is currently being detained as well, but without facing the death penalty, reports Al Jazeera.

Al-Ghomgham’s detainment and possible execution are landmark’s for the extremely conservative, monarchy-ruled country. The recent demand by the Public Prosecution, which reports directly to the king, makes her the first female activist facing the death penalty for human rights-related work, according to Human Rights Watch. The demands bode poorly for other female activists currently awaiting their judiciary fate.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch, the list of charges brought against the human rights activists show a stark lack of “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.” The crimes were defined by the Islamic law principle of ta’zir, where a judge decides the definition of the crime and the ensuing sentence.

The charges hold a strange juxtaposition to recent developments in Saudi Arabia for increased rights and protections of women. In June 2017, Mohammed bin Salman became the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Later that year, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud signed a legislation that lifted the ban on female drivers and gave women a larger presence in public life, reports Al Jazeera.

“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,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Public protests and political parties are banned in the monarchy ruled country, informs Al Jazeera.

There have been 13 arrests of human rights activists since May in Saudi Arabia, according to Al Jazeera. The arrests are part of a trend of prosecution against Saudi women’s rights activists that publicly strive for an end to the male guardianship laws of Saudi Arabia. The six recent detainees are due to appear in court again on October 28, reports Human Rights Watch.