Riyadh drops death penalty for woman activist: rights groups


RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is no longer seeking the death penalty against woman activist Israa al-Ghomgham, who has been in jail since December 2015, rights groups said Friday.

Riyadh has faced increasing pressure over the detention of Ghomgham for her involvement in anti-government protests in the east of the kingdom.

“News that Saudi Arabia´s authorities have dropped their outrageous call for Israa al-Ghomgham to be executed comes as a huge relief,” said Amnesty International´s Middle East campaign head Samah Hadid.

However, “she is still facing a ludicrous prison sentence simply for participating in peaceful demonstrations,” she added.

There was no official Saudi comment on her case.

Saudi Arabia´s public prosecutor has charged four other rights campaigners alongside Ghomgham, accusing them of inciting mass protests in mainly Shiite areas of the Sunni-ruled country´s Eastern Province.

Hadid urged Saudi prosecutors to “immediately drop their call for the death penalty” against the four other defendants, whose trial opened in a Riyadh court in August.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights also said the court was no longer seeking the death penalty against Ghomgham but that she was “still likely to face a lengthy sentence”.

It urged Saudi authorities to “drop all charges against those arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression”.

Ghomgham had documented the protests in Eastern Province since they began in 2011.

The ultra-conservative kingdom has one of the world´s highest execution rates, with suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking facing the death penalty.

Human rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of trials in the monarchy which is governed under a strict form of Islamic law.

The government says the death penalty, which is carried out by hanging in the Gulf state, is an effective deterrent against serious crime.