By: Rachel Hess Wachman (Correspondent)
Standing up for her beliefs could cost Israa al-Ghomgham her life. Ghomgham, a 29 year-old female activist jailed for protesting discrimination in Saudi Arabia, faces execution by beheading.
On August 6th, the public prosecutor for Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court, which generally prosecutes terrorists, recommended the death penalty for Ghomgham and five other activists. Ghomgham, a non-violent offender, will face a judge on Sunday October 28th for her final hearing.
“The charges against Israa al-Ghomgam, which mostly relate to her peaceful participation in protests, are absurd and clearly politically motivated to silence dissent in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia,” said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns. In a statement, Hadid decried Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty, urging other nations to pressure Saudi Arabia into abolishing it, citing the continued “violation of international human rights law and standards, often after grossly unfair and politically motivated trials.”
Ghomgham and her husband, Moussa al-Hashem, were arrested by the Saudi State Intelligence Service during a night raid in December, 2015. The Shia couple spoke out against Shia discrimination in the Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Sunni nation. The female activist led anti-government protests in al-Qatif, an Eastern region of Saudi Arabia where many Shia Muslims live. Ghomgham is also accused of posting videos and photos of the protest on Facebook, as well as “providing moral support to rioters by participating in funerals of protesters killed during clashes with security forces,” according to a court document.
“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 Lee Winston, the Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch.
This year, Saudi Arabia has beheaded ninety-three people, says The Washington Post. Ghomgham would be the ninety-fourth. The country has one of the highest execution rates in the world.
Ghomgham, denied access to a lawyer, has been in al Mabahith Prison in Dammam, Saudi Arabia since her arrest in 2018, according to the United Nations.
“Ghomgham’s case has been deemed a dangerous precedent for other women activists currently behind bars,” said Human Rights Watch in a report.
“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,” said Sarah Lee Winston. Ghomgham’s trial comes in the midst of Saudi Arabia attempting to manage the aftermath of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, which has raised international questions about the country’s culpability.
Reforms led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have spread through Saudi Arabia in the past few years. Women can now drive and attend soccer games. They cannot, however, peacefully protest against discrimination.
Israa al-Ghomgham had the audacity to raise her voice against injustice. She took a stand for the many Shia Muslims who cannot, yet Ghomgham may have to pay with her head.