Saudi Arabia To Execute 29-Year-Old Female Activist (& You Can Protest In The UK)

Photo: Sahira Saufi Anuar / EyeEm
A female activist is facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia for the first time, human rights campaigners in the country have warned.
Twenty-nine-year-old Israa al-Ghomgham is one of five activists on trial in the country's secretive terrorism court on charges related to peaceful activism, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported.
The human rights organisation warned that al-Ghomgham's death at the hands of the country's Public Prosecution, which reports directly to the Saudi king, would set a "dangerous precedent for other women activists currently behind bars" in Saudi Arabia. She is expected to be executed by beheading.
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The activists are charged with behaviours that HRW says "do not resemble recognisable crimes", 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". They have been held in pretrial detention with no legal representation for over two years, with their next court date scheduled for 28th October 2018, HRW reported.
Their execution was called on the basis of the Islamic law principle of ta’zir, "in which the judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime and over the sentence," HRW states.
Al-Ghomgham has been imprisoned since 6th December 2015 with her husband Moussa al-Hashem after they were arrested during a night raid on their home. She is a Shia Muslim activist in the majority-Sunni country who is known for partaking and documenting the mass protests that started in the country's Eastern Province in early 2011. Shia protestors were calling for an end to the systematic discrimination they face from the Sunni majority.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, said al-Ghomgham's situation was evidence that Saudi Arabia's monarchy was not as progressive as its PR team has been making out. "Any execution is appalling, but seeking the death penalty for activists like Israa al-Ghomgham, who are not even accused of violent behaviour, is monstrous. 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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She continued: "If the Crown Prince is truly serious about reform, he should immediately step in to ensure no activist is unjustly detained for his or her human rights work."
The Saudi monarchy was praised when it announced recently that women would finally be allowed to drive in the country, but this step forward came at the same time as a crackdown on other women's rights in the country and a string of arrests of women's rights activists who campaigned against the driving ban.
Amnesty International UK will stage a protest in London on Thursday outside the Saudi Embassy, urging the UK government to act and publicly condemn the escalating attacks on female human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. Female drivers will beep their horns and bring traffic to a standstill outside the building between 8.30am and 9:15am.
This article was updated at 3pm on Wednesday 22nd August.
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