Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for five activists, including Israa al-Ghomgham, the first woman to face such a sentence for human rights work, Al Jazeera reports. Ghomgham documented demonstrations against the Sunni-majority government between 2011 and 2015, when she and her husband were arrested in a night raid of their home.
According to the Human Rights Watch, the activists have been imprisoned for two years without legal representation. Their next court date is scheduled for October of this year.
Despite being tried in the country’s terrorism tribunal, the activists’ charges are nonviolent and “do not resemble recognizable crimes,” HRW reports. They include 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.”
“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, in a statement. “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.”
The Middle Eastern nation has claimed to have become more progressive since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took power, most recently by removing the ban on women driving, allowing women to attend sporting events, and weakening the religious police.
Despite these assertions of progressiveness, at least 13 women activists have been arrested since May, Al Jazeera reports, and nine remain held without charge. According to NBC News, human rights groups worry a death sentence for Ghomgham will set a precedent for these other women activists being held.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also sparked a feud with Saudi Arabia recently, speaking out against the country’s treatment of women’s rights activists.