Saudi Arabia Seeks Death Penalty against Female Human Rights Activist
Human rights activist Israa al-Ghamgham was arrested in 2015 in Saudi Arabia (Photo: Twitter)

Saudi Arabian prosecutors are seeking the death sentence for a female human rights activist who was arrested in 2015.

Israa al-Ghamgham, 29, was arrested along with her husband Moussa al-Hashem in December 2015 for their roles in organising anti-government protests in eastern Qatif province in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

She was also charged for offences including calling for the release of political prisoners and an end to anti-Shia government discrimination, a common allegation in Shia-majority province of Qatif in Saudi Arabia.

At a hearing in Riyadh’s specialised criminal court earlier this month, the public prosecutor recommended Israa Ghamgham and five other defendants should be executed under the country’s anti-terrorism law.

If the recommendation of the prosecutors is upheld, the ruling will be passed to King Salman, who usually ratifies all capital punishment in the kingdom. And if Saudi Arabia carries out the sentence, it will be the first time the country has subjected a woman to capital punishment.

Human Rights activist have taken up Israa’s cause. Human Rights Watch has condemned Saudi Arabia’s stance in unequivocal terms. “Any execution is appalling, but seeking the death penalty for activists like Israa al-Ghamgham, who are not even accused of violent behaviour, is monstrous,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

Ghamgham is a “well known human rights defender”, according to the Germany based European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR). The decision sets a “dangerous precedent” for female activists in the deeply conservative country, ESOHR director Ali Adubisi said in a statement.

A recent UN report has also criticised Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on women’s rights activists since May this year, during which time dozens of people have been detained, so far without charge.

The decision to execute Israa Ghamgham comes just months after women were given the right to drive in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is trying to give itself a make-over under the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan. However, instances like Israa Ghomgham’s arrest show that progress and liberalisation in Saudi Arabia still remains a distant dream.