Saudi Arabia: Woman human rights defender Israa Al-Ghomgam could face death sentence while Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah remain detained incommunicado


According to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), human rights defender Israa Al-Ghomgam (pictured in the middle when she was younger) is facing execution by beheading after her trial began in August 2018. In addition, two recently arrested women human rights defenders, Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah (pictured right and left), are being held incommunicado since their arrest three weeks ago. They have not been given proper access to their families nor allowed to talk to their lawyers.

On 06 December 2015, the security forced raided the house of Al-Ghomgam, now 29 years old, and arrested her with her husband, activist Mousa Al-Hashim. The two participated in peaceful protests in Al-Qatif that took place as demonstrations spread across the Middle East during the so-called Arab Spring beginning in 2011. They have been held without a trial in General Intelligence Prison in Al-Dammam since their arrest.

On 06 August 2018, after 32 months, the first hearing of Al-Ghomgam’s trial started before the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) which was created in 2008 to deal with terrorism cases but instead has been misused to target human rights defenders and other activists. She attended the hearing without a lawyer.

During the first session of her trial, the Public Prosecution presented a list of eight main charges against her, including allegedly: "joining a terrorist entity aimed at creating chaos and unrest within the Kingdom," "participating in marches and gatherings in the governorate of Al-Qatif and encouraging young people to go to those marches and gatherings in addition to photographing, documenting and publishing these gatherings through social networks sites," "participating in the funeral of victims of security clashes with protesters," "preparing, sending and storing material that would harm the public order and punishable under Article 6 of the Cybercrime Act of 2007," "creating an account on social networking sites and using it to encourage rallies to riot and incite young people against the state and security forces in addition to publishing pictures and video clips of these rallies and marches about a number of victims of security clashes," and "creating a channel on YouTube for the publication of video clips of victims of security clashes."

The prosecution asked the court to sentence her to death by beheading and the SCC postponed the hearing to 28 October 2018. Internet reports circulated on 20 August 2018 purporting to show a video of Al-Ghomgham being beheaded already but her twitter account (@IsraaAlGhomgham) stated that the reports were false and the video turned out to be three years old.

On 14 August 2018, her father published a request for help to gather 300,000 Saudi Rials (approx. $80,000 USD) in order to hire a lawyer to defend his daughter. However, some lawyers from her region volunteered to work pro bono on her case.

In a separate case, Badawi and Al-Sadah, who were arrested on 30 July 2018 by State Security, have been detained and interrogated at length about their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities. They are being held in solitary confinement in a prison that is controlled by the State Security Presidency, which is a new apparatus established by order of King Abdullah on 20 July 2017 and includes all the security forces. The State Security Presidency is directly associated with the King himself.

Amal Al-Harbi, the wife of prominent activist Fowzan Al-Harbi, was also arrested by State Security on 30 July 2018 while at the seaside with her children in Jeddah and taken to an unknown location. Her husband is one of the founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), who is serving a ten-year prison sentence after being arrested on 26 December 2013.

The arrests of the two women’s rights defenders are part of a string of arrests of over 20 human rights defenders, including prominent women’s rights activists, since 15 May 2018. The arrests have targeted human rights defenders calling for women to be allowed to drive, and to live free of the guardianship system. In June 2018, women were finally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, but the crackdown seems designed to deter any criticism of the Kingdom or its rulers. Hundreds of human rights defenders are already imprisoned and serving lengthy sentences in Saudi Arabia, many from banned NGOs.

After Canada protested the arrests of Badawi and Al-Sadah on 30 July, a serious diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Canada ensued. Badawi’s sister-in-law Ensaf Haider, who lives in Canada, is married to Raif Badawi, currently serving a ten-year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia; and the case has received a lot of attention in Canada.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release human rights defenders Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah, Amal-Al-Harbi and all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia whose detention is a result of their peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of human rights;
  2. Immediately and unconditionally release Israa Al-Ghomgham and Mousa Al-Hashim and ensure that the death sentence is not implemented in her case, nor in the cases of any other peaceful protestors; and
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, including women’s rights defenders, are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisal.