Saudi human rights activist Ali Adubisi agitates from Berlin | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 21.01.2019
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Middle East

Saudi human rights activist Ali Adubisi agitates from Berlin

Since fleeing to Germany, Ali Adubisi has been campaigning for human rights in Saudi Arabia. Now he and his organization have published a report on the death penalty in his home country.

Israa Al-Ghomgham is still facing the death penalty. The Saudi women's rights activist was arrested in December 2015. She was denied access to a lawyer and spent 32 months in prison without being brought before a court. Al-Ghomgham is accused of participating in riots in the predominantly Shiite province of al-Qatif in eastern Saudi Arabia.

According to the indictment, she is charged with inciting the demonstrators as well as instigating protest songs, filming the demonstrations and posting the videos online. For these and other actions, the Saudi state prosecutor called for the death penalty at the start of her trial in August 2018. Al-Ghomgham did not appear in court on the second day of her trial, three months later, and this has raised concerns among her supporters about her physical and mental health.

Read more: Saudi teen's asylum escape puts women's rights abuses on display

The case of the Saudi human rights activist is also mentioned in a document on Saudi Arabia and the death penalty published last  week by the Berlin-based European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR).

Israa Al-Ghomgham is not the first woman to face the death penalty, says Ali Adubisi, the founder and director of ESOHR. Some women have already been executed: Tuti Tursilawati, for example, a young Indonesian woman born in 1984 who was working as a maid in Saudi Arabia. According to a report by the human rights organization, her employer began subjecting her to sexual abuse in 2009. During one such attack in March 2010 she stabbed her rapist, and he died. Tursilawati was sentenced to death and executed in October 2018.

Execution square in Riyadh (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Grimm)

Executions are carried out on this square in front of the offices of the religious police in Riyadh

Ali Adubisi says it's deliberate policy to impose harsh sentences on women, especially women's rights activists who come to the attention of the courts. "Women are increasingly fighting for power in Saudi Arabia," he explains. "That's too much for the conservative hardliners — they don't like it. They don't want to allow women to claim any more freedom, and they signal this to women via the judiciary."

Escape from Saudi Arabia

Ali Adubisi, who comes from the al-Qatif region, has had experiences of his own with the Saudi judiciary. He was arrested for the first time in the spring of 2011. Police officers stopped him for a traffic check; they found politically and culturally undesirable brochures in his car, in particular texts relating to human rights. They were not deemed criminally relevant, so he was released from prison after three days.

Ali Adubisi (privat)

Ali Adubisi fled his home in 2013

In September of the same year he was arrested a further time — again because he was found in possession of "undesirable" literature. This time his detention lasted four months, during which, as he describes it in his resume, he was vilified, insulted and abused. He was slapped, kicked, left standing for hours blindfolded and with his hands in the air, and was exposed to extreme changes in temperature in his cell, he says. Altogether, he was detained for more than 260 days without any reason or legal justification being provided. He spent seven weeks in solitary confinement. In March 2013, when the authorities began to show an interest in him once again, Adubisi and his family left the country.

Read more: Saudi Arabia acquires new meaning for German town

'Happy to be here'

After his escape he came to Germany, where he has been campaigning ever since for politically persecuted people in Saudi Arabia. To this end, he founded the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR). "I'm happy to be here," says Adubisi, "because here I can work freely and in safety."

His organization regularly publishes studies on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia — like last week's report on the death penalty. Adubisi draws on a network of informants in his old home country for his work: "There are a lot of people there who collect and pass on the relevant information," he says.

Women protest the execution of Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr in 2016

Nimr al-Nimr had been outspoken in his criticism of Saudi Arabia's ruling family

The report on the death penalty also refers to official Saudi sources. The Saudi authorities regularly inform the public about death sentences that have been carried out. "These announcements also serve to intimidate the population," says Adubisi.

ESOHR recorded 146 executions in Saudi Arabia in 2017, which corresponds to the findings of Amnesty International. According to ESOHR, 149 people were executed in 2018. Adubisi says there is also a low single-digit number of unreported cases. Most of the victims were executed for violations of criminal law, but they also include political or sectarian activists, such as Shite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a non-violent activist who was executed in 2016.

In Germany, Adubisi says, he is not afraid. However, he does find the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggiat the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October very worrying. It has caused unrest among many dissidents, he says, not just in Turkey. It makes Adubisi all the more determined to fight for human rights in Saudi Arabia: "I owe that to many of my fellow citizens," he says.

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