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Shocking news has emerged regarding the Saudi public prosecution calling for the death penalty sentence against female human rights defender, which is a dangerous precedent, as it will be the first time that the death penalty sentence has been demanded against a female activist. Israa Al- Ghomgham, a well known female human rights defender from Qatif, was brought before the notorious specialized criminal court (SCC) in Riyadh recently, for her first court session, in a trial which commenced after 32 months of arbitrary detention, during which, Israa had no access to legal representation.

ESOHR was made aware of news circulating regarding Israas case via social media reports. Upon further investigation of reports, ESOHR contacted trusted sources and was able to confirm the news.

According to the sources, Israa faced her first court session without any lawyer to defend her. In this regard, Israa’s father disseminated a letter and whatsapp message, which was widely circulated across social media, in which her father reached out for help, asking for 300,000 Saudi riyals (approximately €70,000) to pay for the appointment of a lawyer to represent his daughter in court, as she did not currently have one. Following this call for support, Israa’s father received offers from lawyers to defend Israa’s case pro bono (without charge).


Israa Al-Ghomgham, is a well known female human rights defender from Hayy Al Shawikah in Qatif, located in the Eastern province, who partook in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations during the Arab spring. Despite being aware of the risks and Saudi authorities suppression of the peaceful protest movement, as part of her activism, she called for fundamental and basic civil and political rights such as peaceful assembly and expression, called for the release of prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders and expressed her peaceful opinions on social media platforms. Her activism made her a target for the Saudi authorities.

Israa Al-Ghomgham was arbitrarily arrested in 8th December 2015, when the Saudi authorities launched a violent house raid on her home, arbitrarily arresting both her and her husband. Her family was not informed of her arrest, and only discovered what had happened after not hearing from Israa and going to her home and witnessing the aftermath of the house raid.

Based on ESOHR monitoring of previous cases, the call of the public prosecution for a death sentence for the detainee is a dangerous indicator that the trial outcome will lead to a death penalty sentence being issued, such as in the case of minor protestor Ali Al-Nimr. This is because the Saudi mechanisms involved in the prosecution process are not independent and serve the needs of King Salman directly. In this regard the security body is directly funded by King Salman, the court is appointed by king, and the prosecution office is linked directly to King Salman. All of these bodies are under total control by the king, and therefore many of these trials are merely show trial and have pre-determined outcomes which serve the narrative of the state.

The SCC, is notorious known for its lack of due process and safeguards. The SCC also enacts Saudi Arabia’s 2017 ‘laws for crimes of terrorism and its financing’ (counterrorism law), which have been used in several instances to prosecute activists, and also have been heavily criticized for their overly board formulations which are not in line with international law standards. Thus, Israa is being subjected to an unfair trial, which uses flawed laws and can be regarded as a ‘show trial’.

This recent report of the invocation of the death penalty against a female human rights defender, comes in context of a wider assault of women human rights defenders in the kingdom, under the pretext of a national security narrative, seeking to label legitimate activism as a criminal offence.  In this regard ESOHR is concerned that this new heavy handed approach to women activists will result in harsh reprisals against other women rights activists such as Samar Badawi, Nseema Al-Sadah, Loujain Hathloul and Aziza Yousef.

ESOHR confirms Israa Al-Ghomgham is a female human rights defender and a prisoner of conscience, who has committed no crimes worthy of capital punishment, and the trial she is being subjected to is nothing more than a ‘show trial’ that lacks basic safeguards. ESOHR affirms that Saudi Arabia consistently violates international law, fails to comply with its own domestic laws when dealing with human rights defenders.

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