Iran criticizes Saudi plans to execute human rights activists

Tehran, which tops the list of countries that carry out capital punishments, slams Riyadh for seeking death penalty for five activists, including, in a first, a woman

Illustrative: An activist hangs from a noose-like rope from a Paris bridge to call attention to the large number of executions in Iran,  January 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Zacharie Scheurer)
Illustrative: An activist hangs from a noose-like rope from a Paris bridge to call attention to the large number of executions in Iran, January 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Zacharie Scheurer)

Iran’s High Council of Human Rights, a subdivision of the judiciary, criticized Saudi authorities on Saturday for seeking the death penalty against five human rights activists, including, for the first time, a woman.

“Saudi Arabia’s policy of suppressing the intellectual, right-seeking and anti-oppression Muslims for terrorism allegations is ridiculous and unacceptable,” a statement by the council read, according to the country’s official Fars News Agency.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Human Rights Headquarters seriously warns the Saudi rulers about the consequences of these clear cruelties and crimes against the oppressed people in Qatif [a region in Saudi Arabia] and other right-seeking and anti-oppression activists and stresses the necessity for the international bodies, specially the UN and the Human Rights Council, to show sensitivity and pursue the issue seriously.”

The five human rights activists stand accused of inciting mass protests in mainly-Shiite areas of the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province, and human rights groups charged that the execution threat was a calculated bid to stifle dissent.

Female activist Israa al-Ghomgham, who has documented the protests in Eastern Province since they began in 2011, would be the first woman activist to face the death sentence for rights-related work.

She was arrested at her home along with her husband in December 2015, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in separate statements this week.

“Israa al-Ghomgham and four other individuals are now facing the most appalling possible punishment simply for their involvement in anti-government protests,” said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns.

“We are urging the Saudi Arabian authorities to drop these plans immediately.”

Saudi officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

HRW said Ghomgham, her husband, and the three other defendants face charges that “do not resemble recognizable crimes.”

“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,” its Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said.

According to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia carried out over 140 executions in 2017, down from over 150 in 2016. Iran carried out over 500 executions in 2017, and topped Amnesty International’s list of countries carrying out the death penalty.

Iran is believed to execute the most people per capita in the entire world.

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