Posted: 22 March 2010
‘If JK Rowling lived in Saudi Arabia she could be arrested for practising "sorcery" with her Harry Potter books’ - James Savage
Amnesty International has issued an “urgent appeal” calling for the execution of a TV presenter sentenced to death for “sorcery” in Saudi Arabia to be halted.
‘Ali Hussain Sibat, a 46-year-old Lebanese father of five, is facing execution in Medina on a so-called “sorcery” charge relating to his work as the presenter of a show on a Lebanese satellite television station called Sheherazade. On the programme ‘Ali Hussain Sibat gives advice and predictions about the future.
‘Ali Hussain Sibat was originally arrested by the “Mutawe’en” - Saudi Arabia’s religious police - in May 2008, when Mr Sibat was in the country to perform a Muslim pilgrimage. Having apparently recognised him from his TV show, the Mutawe’en asked him to write down what he did for a living, assuring him that he would be released within a few weeks. Instead in November 2009 his note was presented to a court in Medina as his “confession” and used to convict him in a secret trial. He had no legal representation whatsoever.
Earlier this year an appeals court had questioned the case against Mr Sibat but on 10 March a court in Medina upheld the sentence, with judges saying he deserved death for practising “sorcery” in front of millions of viewers for years. The judges claimed his execution would act as a deterrent and they bemoaned what they said were increasing numbers of “foreign magicians” entering Saudi Arabia.
Last year scores of people in Saudi Arabia were arrested on “sorcery” charges, many by the Mutawe’en. The last known sorcery execution took place in 2007, when an Egyptian pharmacist in the northern town of Arar was executed on charges relating to a degraded copy of the Qu’ran.
Amnesty International UK Individuals At Risk Manager James Savage said:
“If Saudi Arabia didn’t already have a frightening record of arresting and sentencing people to death for ‘sorcery’, this case would be almost laughable. As it is, it’s sinister and deplorable.
“Nothing is too bizarre when it comes to Saudi Arabia’s application of the death penalty. If JK Rowling lived in Saudi Arabia she could be arrested for practising ‘sorcery’ with her Harry Potter books.
“However, despite the case’s ludicrous nature, ‘Ali Hussain Sibat is now at real risk.
“The senior courts have got to step in and prevent this horrifying travesty of justice. Anything less will bring shame on the Saudi Arabian authorities.”
‘Ali Hussain Sibat is just the latest case of someone condemned to death in Saudi Arabia following vague charges and an unfair trial. For example another man is currently facing execution for the crime of “apostasy” relating to “sorcery” accusations after being convicted last July in a court in the northern city of Hail.
Meanwhile, so far in 2010 at least eight people have been executed, while at least 69 people were executed in the country last year, including almost 20 foreign nationals. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of executions in the world.