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Saudi women arrive at a mosque in Riyadh.
Hassan Ammar/AP
Girls & Women

Saudi Arabia Seeks Country's First Execution of Female Human Rights Activist


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A Saudi Arabian female human rights activist may be the first to face execution in the kingdom.

Israa al-Ghomgham, a Shia activist arrested with her husband in 2015, is among five campaigners waiting to be tried in the country’s terrorism tribunal, reported the Guardian.

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“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 (HRW), which contends that the charges al-Ghomgham faces are only related to peaceful activism.

Shia citizens face systemic discrimination in the majority-Sunni nation, according to the report, including securing work and education, as well as restrictions on religious practice.

Read More: Saudi Arabia Officially Lifts Widely Criticized Ban on Female Drivers

In 2011, mass protests began for Shia rights, which al-Ghomgham joined along with her husband, Moussa al-Hashem. After being arrested during a night raid on her home in 2015, she has been held in jail, without access to legal support.

The group face charges including “participating in protests,” “chanting slogans hostile to the regime,” “attempting to inflame public opinion,” and “filming protests and publishing on social media,” HRW told the Guardian.

And should she be executed, it sets "a dangerous precedent for other women activists currently behind bars" in the Gulf kingdom, HRW told the BBC.

Thirteen human rights defenders and women's rights activists have been arrested since mid-May, according to the report, and are accused of activities deemed “a risk to national security.” While some have been released, others remain detained without charge.

Read More: Saudi Arabia Continues to Arrest Women's Rights Activists: Reports

Despite having recently lifted a ban on women driving and allowing them to attend soccer matches, detaining activists and threatening them with the death penalty displays to the world how far the country truly has to go toward equality, critics contend.

"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 Whitson.