Saudi Arabia seeks death penalty for female activist

Mohammed Bin Salman, the person who has emerged as a powerful figure in Saudi Arabia and even as the de facto ruler, has managed to get a lot of favorable press in the west by allowing women to drive, and the media have fawned over him as a reformer, suggesting that his friendship with Jared Kushner is a sign that he has modern values and that he is leading the country away from its ghastly and barbaric practices. But today comes word that the government is seeking the death penalty for a woman activist merely for participating in protests.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution is seeking the death penalty against five Eastern Province activists, including female human rights activist Israa al-Ghomgham, Human Rights Watch said today. The activists, along with one other person not facing execution, are being tried in the country’s terrorism tribunal on charges solely related to their peaceful activism.

The Public Prosecution, which reports directly to the king, accused the detained activists of several charges that do not resemble recognizable crimes, including “participating in protests in the Qatif region,” “incitement to protest,” “chanting slogans hostile to the regime,” “attempting to inflame public opinion,” “filming protests and publishing on social media,” and “providing moral support to rioters.” It called for their execution based on the Islamic law principle of ta’zir, in which the judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime and over the sentence.

Saudi activists told Human Rights Watch that the Public Prosecution’s recent demand makes al-Ghomgham the first female activist to possibly face the death penalty for her human rights-related work, which sets a dangerous precedent for other women activists currently behind bars.

Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), set up in 2008 to try terrorism cases, has since been increasingly used to prosecute peaceful dissidents. The court is notorious for its violations of fair trial standards and has previously sentenced other Shia activists to death on politically motivated charges.

Yeah, Kushner’s buddy is a real reformer, isn’t he? But just wait. No doubt he will soon visit the US and announce some minor concession and the media here will swoon over him again.

And of course, they will ignore the vicious and murderous campaign that his country, under his leadership, is waging against Yemen, since the US and its ally the UAE are partners in those war crimes.


  1. jrkrideau says

    The charge of “participating in protests in the Qatif region” the is really serious one though Saudi Arabia may not admit it.

    The others may be pretty serious too, by Saudi standards. The monarchy, especially since the attack on Mecca in the 1970’s have been incredibly oppressive and Salafi (Wahabi) so they are probably panicked by any sign of discontent.

    I am not suggesting that the monarchy is a trifle paranoid but I have heard of a case back in the late 1980’s where 3 or 4 western educated men got together in an informal book club and were cautioned by the police.

    The economic situation is a lot worse now so discontent rather than literature may be a bit of a worry.

    The reason the “participating in protests in the Qatif region” charge sounds so serious is that Israa al-Ghomgham is Shi’a and Quatif is a large Shi’a town in the Eastern Province close to a lot of oil infrastructure (and Aramco’s head office) at Jubail, Ras Tanura and Dahran.

    Again, back in the ’80s, it was reported that Saudi police never ventured into Quatif unless they had a minimum of four men.

    My impression is that the Sunni Saudi government is hated by most Shi’a, with good reason. Religious persecution is alive and flourishing in Saudi Arabia and Qatif has been a hotbed of Shi’a unrest for many years.

    Mohammad bin Salman is not a social reformer. He needs a bit of good publicity at home and abroad. A few minor cosmetic changes, women driving, cinemas, letting women attend football games are essentially meaningless. He has every intention of remaining a despot and I doubt that he can do this by instituting social reform.

    He is something of an economic reformer but in general he is a screw-up so these reforms will probably fail.

    Diplomatically he also is completely incompetent (Yemen and kidnapping the Lebanese Prime Minister were two of his outstanding move.

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