Saudi Arabia: Peaceful WHRD Israa Al-Ghomgham sentenced to 8 years in prison
Reliable report received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) have confirmed that woman human rights defender Israa Al-Ghomgham has been sentenced to eight years in prison for peacefully exercising her rights to freedom of assembly and expression. The sentence comes the same week that other women human rights defenders have been released from prison, following international pressure.
On 10 February 2021, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced Al-Ghomgham, 32 years old, to eight years in prison followed by another eight years of travel ban starting after her prison sentence is served. The verdict is preliminary and subject to appeal. (The photo above is from when she was a child and is the only known photo of her.)
Al-Ghomgham was denied access to a lawyer during the early stage of detention and interrogation, when she alleged that she was ill-treated and her rights were violated. Yet, none of her claims have been investigated
Al-Ghomgham remains in the General Intelligence Prison in Al-Dhamam, where she has been held since her arrest on 06 December 2015.
On 06 December 2015, the security forced raided the house of Al-Ghomgham 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.
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 presented a list of eight main charges against Al-Ghomgham, including 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."
At the first hearing on 06 August 2018, the Public Prosecutor originally called for Al-Ghomgham’s execution by beheading, making her potentially the first woman to be executed for her activism in Saudi Arabia. She was not present in court during the second and third hearings later in 2018, leading to concerns for her well-being.
On 12 October 2018, 18 UN experts expressed acute concern for Al-Ghomgham, who they said was being tried before the SCC on “charges that appear to lack legal bases.”
On 01 February 2019, Saudi prosecutors dropped the death penalty in response to international pressure that forced Saudi Arabia to restructure the SCC, where she is being tried. Her husband and other defendants in the case remain at risk of the death sentence.
GCHR condemns the sentence against Al-Ghomgham, which followed a show trial that lacked the minimum international standards for fair trial and due process.
GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Israa Al-Ghomgham and Mousa Al-Hashim and ensure that the death sentence is not implemented in his case, nor in the cases of any other peaceful protestors;
- While she is in custody, provide proper care to maintain her health, and allow her full access to her family;
- Drop all charges against those arrested for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including women’s rights defenders, and free them unconditionally; 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.