'Monstrous'

Prosecutors in Saudi Arabia seeking death penalty against 29-year-old human rights activist

A photo of Israa al-Ghomgham as a child, the only known picture of the human rights activist. (Twitter)

In a rare move, the Saudi government is prosecuting a death penalty case against a 29-year-old woman who has been a human rights activist advocating for Shiite Muslims in the country, a minority. Israa al-Ghomgham is one of six activists being prosecuted — five of whom are facing the death penalty. Another activist is being prosecuted but is not facing capital punishment. Saudi Arabia is a majority Sunni nation.

Ghomgham is accused of “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,” according to Human Rights Watch. The case against Ghomgham is being handled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution, which reports directly to the king. Ghomgham was arrested along with her husband in December 2015 and has been detained ever since. Though she’s not been accused of any violent crimes, she is being prosecuted by the kingdom’s special court that handles terrorism cases.

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, has fashioned himself a reformer, taking credit for the kingdom lifting the ban on women driving in June that had been in place since 1957. But human rights advocates say that the prosecution of people like Ghomgham and the detention of other human rights campaigners is inconsistent with the reformer image he is promoting to the outside world.

“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.”

In a bid to raise awareness about Ghomgham’s plight, supporters have taken to social media by posting photos of her as a young girl and sharing anecdotes about her “unfair trial” in her voice.  One reads, “in my 1st court hearing I had no lawyer.” In the same tweet, she makes an ominous revelation about how she would be likely to die if she were convicted: “They want to behead me!”

In fact, according to The New York Times, most executions in the kingdom are done by public beheading, however it is exceedingly rare for a woman to be executed for crimes that are nonviolent.

Read the full story at The New York Times

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