Amnesty urges Saudi king to commute death penalty

Lebanese television psychic and Sudanese witchdoctor face beheading; Amnesty International issues urgent plea to King Abdullah.

October 3, 2010 20:26
3 minute read.
Amnesty urges Saudi king to commute death penalty

saudi arabia family 248 88. (photo credit: AP [file])

A Lebanese television psychic arrested and convicted of sorcery in Saudi Arabia apparently failed to foresee his own sentence to death by beheading, and now awaits the mercy of King Abdullah.

Amnesty International has issued an urgent request to the Saudi Arabian monarch to commute the death sentence of Ali Hussain Sibat and another man, both convicted for practicing black magic in the desert kingdom.

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With the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan when there is a moratorium on executions, Saudi Arabia has resumed its practice of beheading those on death row. Amnesty International appealed to King Abdullah to show leniency for a crime which they say was nothing more than an exercise of the defendants’ right to freedom of expression.

Amnesty International was also trying to save the life of Abdul Hamid Bin Hussain Bin Moustafa Al-Fakki, a Sudanese national who was arrested in 2005 for taking money in return for casting a spell to compel a man to leave his second wife.

“Two men are at imminent risk of facing the ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment without having committed anything that would appear to constitute a crime,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a press release issued over the weekend. 

Sibat, a Shiite father of five, had been a popular television presenter for Scheherazade, a Lebanese satellite TV station, where he predicted the future. In May 2008, he visited Saudi Arabia as a Muslim pilgrim and was arrested by the Mutawa’een (religious police). A Medina court sentenced him to death last year. In March, an appeals court upheld the verdict. His case is now in the hands of King Abdullah for final ratification.

A spokesman for Amnesty International could not say what was behind the timing of their announcement or whether the beheadings were imminent.

Saudi Arabia is one of the last places in the world where capital punishment is a public spectacle. They occur in the morning without any prior notice. Reports from Lebanon speculate that the high profile case of Sibat, 48, was an attempt by conservatives to embarrass reformist leaders such as King Abdullah.

But Saudi Arabian blogger Trad Alasmari told The Media Line that he didn’t suspect there was any link between the executions and politics.

“In Saudi Arabia the punishment for sorcery is death according to Islamic law,” said Alasmari, a former police officer. “Many people are executed for this, including foreign nationals. It’s normal.”

Alasmari added that the legal process took time in Saudi Arabia

Amnesty International also urged King Abdullah to grant clemency to ‘Abdul Hamid Al-Fakki, who has been sitting on death row since his March 2007 conviction for “sorcery.” According to the London-based human rights organization, Fakki’s legal proceedings were held in secrecy and he has had no legal assistance.

They said Fakki had been “entrapped” by a member of the Mutawa’een who secretly offered to pay 6,000 Saudi Arabian riyals ($1,600) to produce a spell that would make the man’s father leave his second wife. Amnesty said Fakki, 36, was beaten to force his confession.

‘Abdul Hamid Al-Fakki’s brother told Amnesty International that he was “a very gentle man” and that their parents, both suffering from poor health, were tormented by the death sentence hanging over him. “How could they do something like this to him?” he was quoted as saying. 

The detention of the two men on vague “sorcery” charges also contravenes international human rights standards by punishing forms of expression that, while unusual, have been peaceful.

Amnesty International said that the two men must be immediately and unconditionally released since the acts for which they have been convicted “amount to no more than the legitimate, peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and religion."

The last known execution of someone charged with sorcery was of Egyptian national on 2 November 2007. He was convicted of “sorcery” and “witchcraft” for allegedly casting spells to attempt to separate a married couple.

At least 158 people were executed in Saudi Arabia in 2007 and at least 102 in 2008. In 2009, at least 69 people are known to have been executed, including 19 foreign nationals. Since the beginning of 2010, at least 19 people have been executed.

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