Saudi Arabian court rejects 'sorcery' death sentence
Amnesty International has welcomed a decision by the Saudi Arabian Supreme Court this week not to ratify the death sentence on a Lebanese man convicted of "sorcery".The court in the capital Riyadh said that the death sentence for 'Ali Hussain Sibat was inappropriate because there was no proof that others were harmed as a result of his actions.The court ordered that the case be retried in the original lower court in Madina with a view to considering commutation of his death sentence and deportation to Lebanon at the end of his sentence."The Supreme Court's decision is a welcome step and may lead to 'Ali Hussain Sibat's no longer facing the death penalty," said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme."However, we continue to urge that he be immediately released as he was convicted solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression."The "sorcery" charges against 'Ali Hussain Sibat relate to his former role as a presenter on the Lebanese satellite TV station Sheherazade, in which he gave advice and predictions about the future.He was sentenced to death by a Madina court on 9 November 2009, following his arrest by the Mutawa'een (religious police) in May 2008 while he was visiting Saudi Arabia on a form of Muslim pilgrimage, umra.He was given no legal representation or assistance during the trial hearings.In January 2010, the Court of Appeal in Makkah accepted an appeal against his death sentence on the grounds that all the allegations against him had to be verified, and that if he was found to have committed the crime he should be given the opportunity to repent.Despite this, on 10 March a court in Madina upheld his death sentence after the judges said he deserved to be sentenced to death because he had practised "sorcery" publicly for several years before millions of viewers. His actions, they said, made him an "infidel".The Court of Appeal in Makkah subsequently upheld the death sentence in April 2010 and referred the case to the Supreme Court for ratification.'Ali Hussain Sibat's lawyer in Lebanon believes that he was arrested because members of the Mutawa'een had recognized him from his television show.After he was arrested, 'Ali Hussain Sibat's interrogators told him to write down what he did for a living, misleading him into believing that if he did so he would be allowed to go home after a few weeks.This document was presented in court as his "confession" and it was used by the court to convict him.In September, Amnesty International urged King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to commute the death sentences of 'Ali Hussain Sibat and a Sudanese man convicted of sorcery, 'Abdul Hamid al-Fakki.'Abdul Hamid al-Fakki was sentenced to death by the General Court in Madina in March 2007. He had no legal assistance and very little is known about his trial proceedings as they were held in secret. He is believed to still be at risk of execution.Another man sentenced to death for "apostasy" in July 2009 by a court in Hail on grounds relating to "sorcery" may also still be at risk.The crime of "sorcery" is not defined in Saudi Arabian law, 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.The criminalization of apostasy is incompatible with the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.The last known execution in Saudi Arabia of someone charged with such an offence was that of Egyptian national Mustafa Ibrahim on 2 November 2007.He was convicted of "sorcery" and "witchcraft" for allegedly casting spells to attempt to separate a married couple.Since the beginning of 2010, at least 22 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia after being convicted of other crimes.In 2009, 69 people are known to have been executed, including almost 20 foreign nationals. At least 102 people were executed in 2008 and at least 158 in 2007.