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Saudi Arabia May Execute Its First Non-Violent Female Activist

Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution is seeking the death penalty against a female human rights activist for her non-violent activist work.

According to Human Rights Watch, Israa al-Ghomgham is facing the death penalty along with four other activists for charges 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.” All of the activists and one additional activist who is not facing the death penalty, have been held in pretrial detention without legal representation for over two years.

The grounds for execution are reportedly based on ta’zir, a principle of Islamic law that gives a judge discretion over the sentence and definition of what constitutes a crime.

Al-Ghomgham is a Shia and the first female activist to ever face the death penalty, which, if executed, will set a dangerous precedent for other detained activists. She was arrested on December 6, 2015 after participating and documenting the 2011 demonstrations in the Eastern Province and calling for an end to discrimination agaist Saudi Shias.

In 2014, eight men were sentenced to death for their participation in the 2011 Eastern Province demonstrations, and an additional 14 were sentenced to death in 2016.

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

Saudi Arabia is also a signatory to the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which only permits the death penalty for “the most serious crimes,” according to Article 10.

The court date is scheduled for October 28, 2018.

In recent weeks, the kingdom has also imprisoned several other peaceful human rights and women’s rights activists and expelled the Canadian ambassador after he criticized the arrests.

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