In Brief

Saudi Arabia plans to behead female political activist

Human rights groups have condemned the decision by Saudi prosecutors

Saudi Arabia is coming under severe criticism for seeking the death penalty for a woman because of her political activism, reports suggest.

The Independent says Israa al-Ghomgham, 29, was arrested along with her husband Moussa al-Hashem in December 2015 “for their roles in organising anti-government protests in eastern Qatif province in the aftermath of the Arab Spring”.

Charges against her include incitement to protest and providing moral support to rioters. Ghomgham is the first woman in Saudi Arabia to be sentenced to death for political protests.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement on Wednesday: “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.”

The Guardian adds that ALQST, a London-based Saudi rights group, also reported on Ghomgham’s case earlier this week.

Ghomgham’s situation has also ensured that the vitriolic diplomatic dispute between Saudi Arabia and the government of Canada rumbles on. Canada has been an outspoken critic of the Saudis’ supposedly unlawful detention of activists, and the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said of Ghomgham: “Canada is extremely concerned by the arrests of women’s rights activists.

“These concerns have been raised with the Saudi government. Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world.”

The public prosecutor has recommended the execution of five other defendants under anti-terrorism laws during a court hearing earlier this month.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy in which political parties and political protest are prohibited by law. However, a drive for reform has taken place over the last two years, with women being allowed more rights than previously,and a number of gender segregation laws being lifted.

Despite this, 146 people were executed in Saudi Arabia last year, according to Amnesty International. Beheading is the most common method of capital punishment in the country.

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