Israa al-Ghomgham. Say her name: Israa al-Ghomgham. Israa al-Ghomgham is a Shiite Muslim woman who is facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. Should her sentence be carried out, it would be the first time a woman was executed for political activism in Saudi Arabia. Al-Ghomgham along with five other female human rights activists are currently facing the death penalty for non-violent, political activism. Her crimes include posting on Facebook, protesting the discrimination of Shiite Muslims in her community, and, attending the funeral of a fellow protester. Though many would not consider attending a funeral, and posting on Facebook crimes, Saudi Arabia’s unrestrained despotism has led to the arrest of other female activists under the pretext of maintaining Saudi’s national security. The death penalty is not a common punishment globally. In fact, Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that the death penalty may only be imposed for the “most serious crimes”. One hundred and seventy, or 88%, of the 193 United Nations member states were execution-free in 2017. Of the 23 countries that did carry out executions, there were 993 in 2017. Saudi Arabia is one of the most prolific executioners of the 23 countries. In 2017, it’s estimated that there were 146 executions and at least 65 executions have been carried out since January 1, 2018. Of the 993 executions carried out in 2017 globally, Saudi Arabia is responsible for 17%, or 146 executions. One hundred and forty-four of those executions were men and two were women. Only 53% of executions were carried out for murder which means 47% of executions in Saudi Arabia were for non-lethal offences. Saudi Arabia has sentenced women to death—rarely, but it has. What is unique about al-Ghomgham’s case is that she could be the first woman executed for political activism, a non-violent crime, “which sets a dangerous precedent for other women activists currently behind bars,” according to Human Rights Watch. What al-Ghomgham needs now is to be pardoned by Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi’s Crown Prince. When bin Salman came to power, he was seen as the millennial prince that would lift the harsh restrictions against women in his country and usher his people into a more equal society. What has taken place since, has shown bin Salman as a stealthy political player, making grand statements about women’s rights on the global stage while simultaneously condemning anyone who dares to question his regime. In a move that made global headlines, bin Salman lifted a ban against women driving in Saudi Arabia. While on the surface, this looks like a step that brings a measure of equality to Saudi women, the reality on the ground is different. Women who are brave enough to obtain a driver’s license and openly drive on the streets are attacked with verbal assaults and violent acts such as setting their cars on fire. Bin Salman may have lifted a ban, but he has said and done nothing to deter the violence against women that continues to plague Saudi society. In fact, more than a dozen women’s rights activists who point out this discrepancy have been jailed since May. When the Canadian ambassador called out these human rights violations, he was expelled from the country and all flights to and from Toronto were suspended. Instead of standing by his call for women’s equality and releasing the activists who campaigned for the right to drive, bin Salman chose to allow his unrelenting crackdown on the women’s rights movement to proceed. Bin Salman is not an ally in the women’s rights movement globally or in Saudi Arabia. His reign as Crown Prince will oversee the first woman sentenced to death for political activism, setting a slippery slope for the other female activists jailed for similar crimes. Israa al-Ghomgham’s detainment and conviction is unjust and her death penalty sentence is rare not only in Saudi Arabia, but on a global scale. She deserves to be free. She deserves a pardon from Mohammad bin Salman. Israa al-Ghomgham. Say her name, bin Salman: Israa al-Ghomgham.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.