Six defendants sentenced to death
Back on August 6th at a hearing before the Specialised Criminal Court, the public prosecutor recommended the death penalty for six defendants. These included Ghomgham as well as her husband Moussa al-Hashem. They have been in jail now for nearly three years on charges of being in anti-government protests and incitement to disobedience of the ruler. They are also charged with providing moral support to participants in anti-government protests that took place in the Shia-majority eastern region of Qatif.
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Ghomgam was indeed a leader of anti-government protests in Qatif that have been happening since 2011. The protesters demand an end to anti-Shia discrimination and also the release of political prisoners. She with her husband were arrested on December 8, 2015 in a house raid.
Saudi human rights groups report that Ghomgham and her family could not afford a lawyer while she was in detention but when her case became known many lawyers offered their services free. The final session for her case is to take place only on October 28. Then a judge will either confirm or reverse the earlier death penalty recommendation of the public prosecutor.
The death penalty in Saudi Arabia is carried out usually only after the king ratifies the decision. Ali Adubusi, director of the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) said that sentencing a female human rights defender to death in Saudi Arabia is a dangerous precedent.
Charges do not warrant death penalty even under Saudi law
Adubusi maintains that none of the charges made against Ghomgjam involve the use of violence and so do not warrant the death penalty under Saudi law. Adubusi said: “It’s largely a revenge against the Arab Spring, and a punishment for Qatif, which witnessed the largest protests since 2011.” ESOHR’s latest tally shows at least 58 people mostly Shia on death row. 31 of them have had their verdicts confirmed by the High Court. If carried out this would be the first execution of a female activist by Saudi Arabia.
False reports that Ghomgham was already executed
Several media sources have already reported that Ghomgham has already been executed. One source claims: “The Thefreethoughts Twitter account and other Saudi sources said the female, named as Esra al-Ghamgam, was executed on the prosecutor’s orders on Sunday. It shared a video showing an executioner fixing her in a recumbent position on the ground before decapitating her with a sword as security forces stood by.”
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However, the video is from an earlier beheading of a Saudi woman that was widespread on social media who was incorrectly identified as Ghomgham. Also the photo was not of Ghomgham either but of Samar Badawi another imprisoned Saudi activist.
Relatives and activists have refuted the reports. Ghomgham’s sister expressed sadness at what she described as the false news that was circulating. She said the reports did nothing to advance Ghomgham’s cause and caused distress to the family.
Saudi Arabia often the subject of criticism for executions and legal system
According to Human Rights Watch Saudi Arabia has executed 48 people just in the last four months. Half are for non-violent drug charges. The U.S.-based group urged Saudi Arabia to improve what it terms a “notoriously unfair criminal justice system”.
The country has one of the highest rates in the world for executions. The death penalty can be imposed for terrorist acts, rape, homicide, armed robbery and even drug trafficking.
A UN report in June claimed that the kingdom was using counter terrorism laws to suppress those who were merely defending human rights. Some are imprisoned for years while others are executed.