Saudi woman may be executed for activism, in first such case
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Saudi woman may be executed for activism, in first such case

Quoting local activists, Human Rights Watch says Israa al-Ghomgham would be the first female rights campaigner in Saudi Arabia to face death penalty

Illustrative: In this photo from April 1, 2010, activists from a civil organization reenact an execution scene in front of the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, as they protest a possible beheading of a Lebanese man accused of witchcraft in Saudi Arabia. (AP/Bilal Hussein, File)
Illustrative: In this photo from April 1, 2010, activists from a civil organization reenact an execution scene in front of the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, as they protest a possible beheading of a Lebanese man accused of witchcraft in Saudi Arabia. (AP/Bilal Hussein, File)

A Saudi woman may face the death penalty for her political activities, a rights group said Tuesday, in what is thought to be the first such instance of a female activist in the kingdom to face the death penalty.

According to Human Rights Watch, Israa al-Ghomgham is one of five activists in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province for whom prosecutor are seeking the death penalty. The group said she is being tried in a terror court on a slew of charges for her peaceful activism, including for participating in protests against the discrimination of Shiites in the Sunni-majority kingdom.

Ultraconservative Sunni clerics in Saudi Arabia have in the past referred to Shiites as apostates, and Shiite protesters have been accused of being allied with the kingdom’s rival, Iran.

“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, HRW’s Middle East director.

“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,” she added.

HRW said al-Ghomgham was known for her involvement in protests in Eastern province against discrimination of Shiites and along with her husband has been jailed since they were arrested in December 2015.

Quoting Saudi activists, HRW said al-Ghomgham’s case is the first time prosecutors in the country have sought the death penalty for a female human rights campaigner over her activist work. The group said executing al-Ghomgham would set a “dangerous precedent” for other imprisoned female activists.

Last month, Saudi Arabia arrested a number of women and human rights campaigners in the kingdom, including award-winning gender rights activist Samar Badawi.

Samar is a vocal campaigner for blogger Raif Badawi, her brother who was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for “insulting Islam” in a case that sparked an international outcry.

The arrests came weeks after more than a dozen women’s right campaigners were detained and accused of undermining national security and collaborating with enemies of the state. Some have since been released.

AFP contributed to this report.

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