Saudi Arabia: Woman human rights defender Israa Al-Ghomgham fails to appear at second hearing, as concern for her well-being mounts
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has received reports that once again human rights defender Israa Al-Ghomgham was not brought to court for her trial related to peaceful protests in Al-Qatif. She was absent from the third hearing of her case in front of the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) on 21 November 2018, as she was for the second hearing on 28 October 2018.
The reason for her absence is unknown and is particularly worrying when three out of five others being tried in the same case were brought to court for the mass trial. Her husband, activist Mousa Al-Hashim, is one of the other defendants. She remains in the General Intelligence Prison in Al-Dammam where she has been held since her arrest on 06 December 2015, and GCHR is extremely concerned after hearing that her mental and physical well-being have deteriorated. The judge adjourned the hearing to 13 January 2019.
The case has generated a lot of interest internationally because the Public Prosecutor has called for Al-Ghomgham’s execution by beheading, making her potentially the first woman to be executed for her activism in the country. As well, over a dozen human rights defenders have been arrested for calling for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, and there are serious concerns for their well-being following recent reports of torture and abuse in detention.
International attention remains focused on Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on 02 October 2018, and 18 people have been arrested in the case. But there is so far no accountability for the ongoing torture and arrests of human rights defenders, and GCHR fears the murder investigation is obscuring other cases. Last month, over 170 NGOs protested the journalist’s murder and the imprisonment of Al-Ghomgham and other human rights defenders jailed in Saudi Arabia. See:
Al-Ghomgham and Al-Hashim, were arrested on 06 December 2015, after the security forced raided their house. 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, and were met with a harsh response. She openly called for the release of human rights defenders and expressed her opinions peacefully on social media.
On 06 August 2018, after 32 months, the first hearing of Al-Ghomgham’s trial started before the 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 asked the court to sentence Al-Ghomgham and her husband to death by beheading. She was charged with allegedly: "joining a terrorist entity aimed at creating chaos and unrest within the Kingdom," "participating in marches and gatherings in the province 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 2008," "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." See: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1976
GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Israa Al-Ghomgham, Mousa Al-Hashim and all peaceful protestors and human rights defenders, including women’s rights defenders;
- Drop all charges against those arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and failing that, follow international standards of law, including ensuring that the penalties are proportionate and the death sentence is not implemented, particularly in the cases of any human rights defenders; and
- 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.
GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (b and c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” and to Article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”