Death sentences over Saudi ‘sorcery’ claims

Amnesty International has urged the King of Saudi Arabia to halt the executions of two men, sentenced to death on charges relating to “sorcery”.

Lebanese national ‘Ali Hussain Sibat and another unidentified man, could be executed at any time if their sentences are upheld by the appeal and Supreme Courts.

The Saudi Arabian authorities have arrested scores of people for “sorcery” this year.

Amnesty International does not have precise details of the charges on which ‘Ali Hussain Sibat was convicted. The organization has received reports that they were based on the accusation that he had engaged in “sorcery”.

‘Ali Hussain Sibat was a presenter on a TV show on the Lebanese satellite station Sheherazade, where he gave advice and predictions about the future. His lawyer in Lebanon believes that he was arrested because members of the Mutawa’een (religious police) had recognized him from the show.

According to his lawyer, Interrogators told ‘Ali Hussain Sibat to write down what he did for a living, reassuring him that, if he did so, he would be allowed to go home after a few weeks. This document was presented in court as a “confession”, and used to convict.

‘Ali Hussain Sibat was arrested by the Mutawa’een in his hotel room in the city of Madina in May 2008. He had travelled to Saudi Arabia to perform a form of Muslim pilgrimage, the ‘umra.

He was sentenced to death by a court in Madina on 9 November, after secret court hearings where he had no legal representation or assistance.

The other man facing execution was sentenced to death for “apostasy” on grounds relating to “sorcery” by a court in the city of Hail in July.

His name is unknown but the Saudi Arabian media has dubbed him as “the magician of female TV presenters” because he included names of TV presenters in graffiti written on the walls of his house.

Members of the Mutawa’een raided his home on 22 February and according to the media found it covered in some 100,000 words of graffiti, including distorted verses from the Qur’an.

Very little is known about his trial, but according to media reports the court apparently convicted him on “apostasy” rather than “sorcery” because he was considered “a beginner in the work of sorcery.” The man has appealed.

The crime of “sorcery” is not defined in Saudi Arabian laws and has been used to punish people for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, including the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, belief and expression.

At least 158 people were executed in Saudi Arabia in 2007 and at least 102 in 2008. Since the beginning of 2009, a further 67 people are known to have been executed.

Amnesty International knows of at least 140 people currently on death row, of whom 104 are foreign nationals. The true figures are believed to be much higher.

The last known execution for “sorcery” was that of Egyptian national Mustafa Ibrahim, on 2 November 2007. He had been arrested in May 2007 in the town of Arar, where he worked as a pharmacist, and accused of “apostasy” for having degraded a copy of the Qur’an.

Amnesty International said the authorities should release ‘Ali Hussain Sibat and the other man immediately and unconditionally if they have been convicted solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

The organization urged the Saudi Arabian authorities to desist from charging and convicting people for “apostasy”, as it violates the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.