For the first time in its history, Saudi Arabia is looking to execute a woman — who’s a noted human rights activist — with several others.
Human Rights Watch reported Israa al-Ghomgham and four others could be beheaded because of their activism. They have been held for more than two years and are scheduled for a court date Oct. 28.
The advocacy group said prosecutors detained the activists on unrecognizable charges for crimes like protesting, chanting hostile slogans to the regime, trying to inflame public opinion, providing moral support to other rioters and filming protests and posting to social media.
Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in all five cases.
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Saudi executions are based on the Islamic law principle of ta’zir, which gives judges discretion to decide what constitutes a crime and how they should be punished.
If the death penalty is upheld by the judge, the case goes to King Salman bin Abdulaziz for final ratification before the beheading is carried out.
“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, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “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.”
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Al-Ghomgham, a well-known Shia activist who participated in Eastern Province demonstrations since 2011, called for an end to discrimination of Saudi Shia citizens in the majority-Sunni country.
The 29-year-old was arrested along with her husband in 2015 during a night raid on their home. Both were jailed for anti-government protests in the Shiite majority region of Qatif.
The Arab Charter on Human Rights, ratified by Saudi Arabia, requires countries to reserve the death penalty only for serious crimes and exceptional circumstances.
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If al-Ghomgham is executed, she would be the first female activist killed by the government, and advocates say it could set a dangerous precedent for others in jail.