Harry Potter gets the death penalty

So the Hogwarts castle has burnt down in “Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows”. Or rather, a studio set in Leavesden near Watford did on Friday. No-one hurt. Fine.
Which got me thinking … how would this have gone down if the filming accident had happened not in Leavesden but, say, in downtown Riyadh in Saudi Arabia? (Bear with me on this …)
A mystery fire on the set of a wizard film in Saudi Arabia could, I reckon, have been a problem for the film-makers. The Saudi religious police – the Mutawe’en – have a bizarre but deadly serious habit of seeing “sorcery” in things like this. Yep, your actual, “real” spells-black-magic-phantasmagoric stuff where people have actual devil-bestowed powers and all that.
In the last couple of years the Mutawe’en have been trying to protect the Saudi Kingdom by busily arresting numerous people for their unearthly powers. For example, a 46-year-old TV presenter from Lebanon called ‘Ali Hussain Sibat is currently facing a death sentence (beheading) after being convicted of “sorcery” because on his satellite TV show (seen in Saudi Arabia) he makes predictions about the future. (Er, if he’s really a wizard who sees the future, why didn’t he see that the Saudi religious police were going to arrest him and get the hell out of the country?)
OK, you’re thinking. This is some bizarre mistake with a rational explanation. Isn’t it? No, it’s not. Not only has ‘Ali Hussain Sibat been in prison since May 2008, but a court recently confirmed his sentence (passed, by the way, without him getting a lawyer: maybe the lawyer mysteriously disappeared in a puff of smoke just before going into court).
In confirming the sentence, the judges claimed that executing ‘Ali Hussain Sibat would act as a deterrent because there had recently been an increase in the number of “foreign magicians” entering Saudi Arabia.  I don’t think they mean Paul Daniels or David Copperfield ….
Amnesty doesn’t have an exact policy position on magic but we definitely don’t think people should be punished for exercising their legitimate right to freedom of speech (whether in predictions about the future or political comment on a government). Please take action for 'Ali Hussain Sibat here.
I don’t know whether the Amnesty-supporting JK Rowling actually believes in the supernatural herself. Somehow I doubt it. But I think she’d oppose this appalling descent into judicial moral panic in Saudi Arabia and I hope she’d call for ‘Ali Hussain Sibat to be freed.
If I was her though, I don’t think I’d be booking flights to Saudi Arabia any time soon.

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