She’s free to drive – but faces BE­HEAD­ING for peace­ful protest

The Nation - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

Saudi Ara­bia’s glossy blue­print for mod­erni­sa­tion, Vi­sion 2030, pledges that the regime will “lis­ten to cit­i­zens’ views, and to hear all in­sights and per­spec­tives”, and wants “to give every­one the op­por­tu­nity to have their say”.

The truth is not so pretty. Speak­ing out in Saudi Ara­bia can lead to death by be­head­ing.

Case in point: Is­raa alGhomgham, a 29-year-old Shi’ite rights ac­tivist who was ar­rested, along with her hus­band, Moussa alHashem, in De­cem­ber 2015 and has been in pre­trial de­ten­tion ever since without le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. She had been a leader of anti-gov­ern­ment protests in restive Qatif in east­ern Saudi Ara­bia since the Arab Spring of 2011, call­ing for an end to dis­crim­i­na­tion against Shi’ites and for the re­lease of po­lit­i­cal prison­ers. Saudi Ara­bia is ma­jor­ity Sunni Mus­lim, as is the monar­chy.

Ghomgham’s trans­gres­sions were “par­tic­i­pat­ing in protests in the Qatif re­gion”, “in­cite­ment to protest”, “chant­ing slo­gans hos­tile to the regime”, “at­tempt­ing to in­flame public opin­ion”, “film­ing protests and pub­lish­ing on so­cial me­dia” and “pro­vid­ing moral sup­port to ri­ot­ers”, ac­cord­ing to Hu­man Rights Watch. Saudi Ara­bia’s rulers are in­tol­er­ant of dis­sent and pun­ish it harshly, with im­pris­on­ment and public lash­ings. On Au­gust 6, a prose­cu­tor asked for the death penalty for Ghomgham, her hus­band and four oth­ers. If car­ried out, she would be the first woman be­headed in Saudi Ara­bia for non-vi­o­lent protest, although the pun­ish­ment is used of­ten for vi­o­lent crimes. The prose­cu­tor’s re­quest was made be­fore the Spe­cialised Crim­i­nal Court, a counter-ter­ror­ism tri­bunal that is in­creas­ingly be­ing used as a blud­geon against dis­sent. A judge is due to con­sider the death­penalty re­quest Oc­to­ber 28; if up­held, it would be re­viewed by the king be­fore be­ing car­ried out.

Be­head­ing a rights ac­tivist for non-vi­o­lent protest is bar­baric, whether the vic­tim is a woman or a man. Saudi Ara­bia re­cently bris­tled at crit­i­cism of its dis­mal hu­man rights record by Canada, claim­ing in­ter­fer­ence in its in­ter­nal af­fairs. But it is im­pos­si­ble to look the other way at such me­dieval prac­tices, or should be. It would be heart­en­ing if the United States, the world’s most pow­er­ful democ­racy, could muster a stronger voice against the abuses.

The king­dom has been en­gaged in a sus­tained crack­down on dis­sent and protest. Saudi au­thor­i­ties im­pris­oned blog­ger Raif Badawi for sug­gest­ing the king­dom needed mod­er­a­tion and his sis­ter Sa­mar Badawi for ad­vo­cat­ing on be­half of hu­man rights. Was their ad­vo­cacy re­ally that dan­ger­ous? Vi­sion 2030, the blue­print of Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, pledges that the “val­ues of mod­er­a­tion, tol­er­ance” will be “the bedrock of our suc­cess”. The doc­u­ment says Saudi Ara­bia’s prin­ci­ples in­clude “be­ing con­sci­en­tious of hu­man rights”. Per­haps the king and crown prince ought to read their own brochures and take them to heart. As it is, they be­have as despots from a darker era.

Is­raa al-Ghomgham

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Thailand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.