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Lebanese PM should step in to halt Saudi Arabia 'Sorcery' execution

Amnesty International has urged Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, to intervene to help halt the possible execution of a Lebanese national in Saudi Arabia, after the organisation received reports that an execution is scheduled for tomorrow (Friday).

It is believed these reports refer to former television presenter 'Ali Hussain Sibat, who has been convicted on charges of "sorcery" in the country. On 10 March a Saudi Arabia court upheld a death sentence against 'Ali Hussain Sibat, after he was convicted in November last year on charges of “sorcery” in relation to giving advice and predictions about the future on a Lebanese satellite TV show.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said:

"‘Ali Hussain Sibat appears to have been convicted solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

"We urge the Lebanese authorities to do all they can to prevent this execution and we are calling on King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia not to let this or other executions go ahead. It is high time the Saudi Arabian government joined the international trend towards a worldwide moratorium on executions."

‘Ali Hussain Sibat was originally arrested by the country’s Mutawa'een (religious police) in May 2008 while visiting Saudi Arabia for a Muslim pilgrimage, the 'umra. His lawyer believes that the TV presenter was arrested because members of the Mutawa'een had recognised him from his show, which was broadcast on the Sheherazade TV station.

The police asked 'Ali Hussain Sibat's to write down what he did for a living, reassuring him that he would be allowed to go home after a few weeks if he complied. The defendant was convicted after the statement he wrote was presented during the trial as a "confession”. He was sentenced to death by a court in Medina on 9 November 2009 following secret hearings where he was given no legal representation or assistance.

In January the Court of Appeal in Makkah accepted an appeal against the TV presenter’s death sentence, on the grounds that it was a premature verdict.  The appeal court said that all allegations made against 'Ali Hussain Sibat had to be verified, and that if he had really committed the crime he should be asked to repent. However, on 10 March a court in Medina upheld the death sentence. The judges said that he deserved to be sentenced to death because he had practised “sorcery” publicly for several years before millions of viewers and that his actions “made him an infidel”.

The court also said that there would be no way to verify that his repentance, if he should repent, would be sincere and that imposing the death sentence would deter other people from engaging in “sorcery” at a time when, the court said, there is an increase in the number of “foreign magicians” entering Saudi Arabia.

The crime of "sorcery" is not defined in Saudi Arabian law but is 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 Saudi Arabian authorities arrested scores of people for “sorcery” in 2009, and have continued to arrest people on the same charges this year.

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.

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

Amnesty calls on the authorities to release 'Ali Hussain immediately and unconditionally if he has been convicted solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

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