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Saudi Arabia: Woman human rights defender Israa Al-Ghomgam could face death sentence

Thursday 23 August 2018, by siawi3


Saudi Arabia: Woman human rights defender Israa Al-Ghomgam could face death sentence while Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah remain detained


According to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), human rights defender Israa Al-Ghomgam (pictured in the middle when she was younger) is facing execution by beheading after her trial began in August 2018. In addition, two recently arrested women human rights defenders, Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah (pictured rights and left), are being held incommunicado since their arrest three weeks ago. They have not been given proper access to their families nor allowed to talk to their lawyers.

On 06 December 2015, the security forced raided the house of Al-Ghomgam, now 29 years old, and arrested her with her husband, activist Mousa Al-Hashim. The two participated in peaceful protests in Al- Qatif that took place as demonstrations spread across the Middle East during the so-called Arab Spring beginning in 2011. They have been held without a trial in General Intelligence Prison in Al-Dammam since their arrest.
On 06 August 2018, after 32 months, the first hearing of Al-Ghomgam’s trial started before the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) which was created in 2008 to deal with terrorism cases but instead has been misused to target human rights defenders and other activists. She attended the hearing without a lawyer.
During the first session of her trial, the Public Prosecution presented a list of eight main charges against her, including allegedly: “joining a terrorist entity aimed at creating chaos and unrest within the Kingdom,”
“participating in marches and gatherings in the governorate of Al-Qatif and encouraging young people to go to those marches and gatherings in addition to photographing, documenting and publishing these gatherings through social networks sites (Facebook),” “participating in the funeral of victims of security clashes with protesters,” “preparing, sending and storing material that would harm the public order and punishable under Article 6 of the Cybercrime Act of 2007,” “creating an account on social networking sites and using it to encourage rallies to riot and incite young people against the state and security forces in addition to publishing pictures and video clips of these rallies and marches about a number of victims of security clashes,” and “creating a channel on YouTube for the publication of video clips of victims of security clashes.”

The prosecution asked the court to sentence her to death by beheading and the SCC postponed the hearing to 31 October 2018. Internet reports circulated on 20 August 2018 purporting to show a video of Al- Ghomgham being beheaded already but her twitter account (@IsraaAlGhomgham) stated that the reports were false and the video turned out to be three years old.
On 14 August 2018, her father published a request for help to gather 300,000 Saudi Rials (approx. $80,000 USD) in order to hire a lawyer to defend his daughter. However, some lawyers from her region volunteered to work pro bono on her case.
In a separate case, Badawi and Al-Sadah, who were arrested on 30 July 2018 by State Security, have been detained and interrogated at length about their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities. They are being held in solitary confinement in a prison that is controlled by the State Security Presidency, which is a new apparatus established by order of King Abdullah on 20 July 2017 and includes all the security forces.

The State Security Presidency is directly associated with the King himself.
Amal Al-Harbi, the wife of prominent human rights defender Fowzan Al-Harbi, was also arrested by State Security on 30 July 2018 while at the seaside with her children in Jeddah and taken to an unknown location. Her husband is one of the founding members of the Civil and Political Rights Association in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA), who is serving a ten-year prison sentence after being arrested on 26 December 2013.
The arrests of the two women’s rights defenders are part of a string of arrests of over 20 human rights defenders, including prominent women’s rights activists, since 15 May 2018. The arrests have targeted human rights defenders calling for women to be allowed to drive, and to live free of the guardianship system. In June 2018, women were finally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, but the crackdown seems designed to deter any criticism of the Kingdom or its rulers. Hundreds of human rights defenders are already imprisoned and serving lengthy sentences in Saudi Arabia, many from banned NGOs.
After Canada protested the arrests of Badawi and Al-Sadah on 30 July, a serious diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Canada ensued. Badawi’s sister-in-law Ensaf Haider, who lives in Canada, is married to Raif Badawi, currently serving a ten-year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia; and the case has received a lot of attention in Canada.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally release human rights defenders Samar Badawi and Nassima Al- Sadah, Amal-Al-Harbi and all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia whose detention is a result of their peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of human rights; 2. Immediately and unconditionally release Israa Al-Ghomgham and Mousa Al-Hashim and ensure that
the death sentence is not implemented in her case, nor in the cases of any other peaceful protestors; and
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, including women’s rights defenders, are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisal.



Saudi Arabia seeks its first death penalty against a female human rights activist

Five human rights activists on trial, including one who would be the first female human rights activist to face capital punishment

Emma Graham-Harrison

Wed 22 Aug 2018 15.55 BST
First published on Wed 22 Aug 2018 05.28 BST

A photograph released by Israa al-Ghomgham’s supporters showing her as a young girl.
A photograph released by Israa al-Ghomgham’s supporters showing her as a young girl. Photograph: @IsraaAlGhomgham/Twitter

Saudi Arabian prosecutors are seeking the death sentence for five human rights activists, including a woman who is thought to be the first female campaigner in the country facing execution, rights groups have said.

Israa al-Ghomgham, a Shia activist arrested with her husband in 2015, will be tried in the country’s terrorism tribunal even though charges she faces relate to peaceful activism, Human Rights Watch said.

“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,†said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.
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Together with her husband, Moussa al-Hashem, and three other defendants, Ghomgham faces charges that “do not resemble recognisable crimes†, HRW said.

They include participating in protests, chanting slogans hostile to the regime, attempting to inflame public opinion and filming protests and publishing on social media.

Saudi Shia citizens face systematic discrimination in the majority-Sunni nation, including obstacles to seeking work and education, and restrictions on religious practice. Ghomgahm had joined and documented mass protests for Shia rights that began in 2011 as the Arab spring swept across the region.

The activist is next due in court on 28 October, and the trial will cast a further shadow on crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to promote himself as a modernising reformer.

The kingdom’s youngest ruler in the modern era, the 32-year-old power behind the throne has pledged to rein in religious extremists, diversify a moribund, oil-dependent economy, and liberalise a deeply conservative social order.

He has rolled back some restrictions on women including a long-standing ban on female drivers, launched economic reforms, allowed cinemas to open for the first time in decades, and imprisoned some of his most powerful royal relatives in an anti-corruption drive.

But social and economic transformation have gone hand-in-hand with a tightening of political controls, as the crown prince has made clear he wants the new Saudi Arabia to remain an absolute monarchy, shaped only by him.

Ahead of lifting the ban on female drivers, authorities arrested more than a dozen of the activists who had campaigned for the very change that he was bringing in. Several are now approaching 100 days in jail without legal representation, and branded “traitors†by local media.

“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,†said HRW’s Whitson.

The campaign to muzzle critics has not just been domestic. Saudi Arabia dramatically cut all ties with Canada after the country’s foreign minister tweeted a call for the release of two jailed activists.

The Canadian ambassador was expelled, Saudi scholarship students told to leave Canada and new trade and investment suspended. Other countries including Germany and Sweden have also come under pressure for censuring Riyadh.

Women have been executed before in Saudi Arabia, which has one of the world’s highest rates of execution: suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking face the death penalty.

But Ghomgham is the first woman to possibly face execution for activism, and other campaigners fear it could set a dangerous precedent. She will be tried in the specialised criminal court set up in 2008 for terrorism cases. The kingdom has previously executed Shia activists following trials at the same court that Amnesty International described as “grossly unfair†.

The UN has also previously warned that Saudi Arabia was abusing anti-terror laws and institutions to crack down on dissent.

“I am concerned about the unacceptably broad definition of terrorism and the use of Saudi Arabia’s 2014 counter-terrorism law and other national security provisions against human rights defenders, writers, bloggers, journalists and other peaceful critics,†UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson said after a visit to Saudi Arabia last year.