In A First, Saudi Arabia May Behead A Female Human Rights Activist

Female activist who peacefully protested against the conservative kingdom for discriminating the Shia community may face death penalty.



Female activist Israa al-Ghomgham hailing from Qatif was detained in  Saudi Arabia for actively protesting against the conservative kingdom. All she asked for were basic human rights.

Ghomgham was protesting against the open discrimination of the Shia community by the kingdom made up of a major Sunni population.

She also demanded the government release prisoners who had been arrested for their activism in peaceful protests and for voicing their beliefs on social media. However, these demands were too much for the authoritative regime, which has recently started touting about practicing seemingly progressive reforms in the country.

State prosecutors of the ultraconservative kingdom are now calling for the female activist’s death penalty. The human rights activist was arrested from Qatif in 2015.

Her execution will be the first time for Saudi Arabia to carry a capital punishment involving a woman.  The anti-government protester was reportedly arrested for participating in “anti-establishment activities.”

Ghomgham was held in detention for 32 months along with her husband, Moussa al-Hashem. They have now been behind bars for three years and ironically could not even afford a lawyer as the couple belongs to a low-income family. However, many lawyers offered services to the couple pro-bono after the plight of Ghomgham became common.

This call for brutality by the public prosecutors naturally outraged activists. They fear this execution will set a dangerous precedent for the kingdom. It is necessary to realize that Saudi Arabia sits on the United Nations Council on Human Rights.

This is ironic to say the least, considering the kingdom is thinking about beheading a female just because she exercised her right to peacefully protest in the country.


“She was a person who tweeted and supported the protests. Maybe she protested as well. But the Saudi government is clearly trying to use that to send a message that we will not spare anyone, woman or not," said Ali al Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs.

"The Saudi government has yet to send a single member of [Daesh] to death, to seek the death penalty for any members of [Daesh], but they have sentenced over 50 Shia protesters to death… this is the first female the government is seeking to execute," he added.

Ali Adubisi, director of the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), said the charges against Ghomgham do not include the use of violence and so the conservative kingdom cannot warrant death penalty as per the Saudi law. “It’s largely a revenge against the Arab Spring, and a punishment for Qatif, which witnessed the largest protests since 2011,” he said.

According to ESOHR, at least 58 people, most belonging to the Shia minority community, are currently on death row in Saudi Arabia, and the High Court has confirmed verdicts of 31 of those people.

Ghomgham death penalty verdict has prompted a campaign for her release on social media. Many on social media warned that this could be the first time Saudi Arabia executes a female for participating in peaceful anti-government protests.

According to a report released by the United Nation, the conservative kingdom was using counterterrorism laws to suppress human rights defenders. These defenders are treated like criminal in the kingdom, just because they speak against the state or demand their rights.

“Those who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression are systematically persecuted in Saudi Arabia,” the report said. “Many languish in prison for years. Others have been executed after blatant miscarriages of justice.”

Ghomgham's case is scheduled for Oct. 28. The activist’s fate hangs in the balance until August when a judge will either confirm or reverse her death recommended by the public prosecutor.

Thumbnail/ Banner Credits: Getty Images, NurPhoto

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