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.
The Guardian reports that 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.