Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor has sought the death penalty against five human rights activists, including a prominent female rights defender, campaigners said on Wednesday.
Among those accused of inciting protests by the Shia Muslim minority in the oil-rich Eastern Province is Israa al-Ghomgham, the first female activist to possibly face the death penalty for her rights-related work.
“Israa al-Ghomgham and four other individuals are now facing the most appalling possible punishment simply for their involvement in anti-government protests,” said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East director of campaigns.
“We are urging the Saudi Arabian authorities to drop these plans immediately.”
Saudi government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ghomgham, a prominent Shia activist who documented mass demonstrations in the Eastern Province starting in 2011, was arrested at her home along with her husband in December 2015, according to Human Rights Watch.
“Sentencing Israa al-Ghomgham to death would send a horrifying message that other activists could be targeted in the same way for their peaceful protest and human rights activism,” Hadid said.
“The charges against Ghomgham... are absurd and clearly politically motivated to silence dissent.”
Amnesty says at least 12 other leading human rights activists, including eight women, have been arrested in the kingdom since May — just before the kingdom ended its ban on women drivers.
Many of them long opposed the decades-long ban and resisted the system of male “guardians” — fathers, husbands or other relatives, whose permission is required to travel or get married.
The ultra-conservative kingdom has one of the world's highest rates of execution, with suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking facing the death penalty.
Rights experts have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of trials in the kingdom, an absolute monarchy governed under a strict form of Islamic law. The government says the death penalty is a deterrent for further crime.