Monday, December 07, 2009

Saudi Arabia to execute Lebanese TV psychic

In November a Lebanese TV psychic, Ali Sibat, was found guilty of witchcraft by a Saudi court and condemned to death. According to Human Rights Watch, this is not the only death sentence for witchcraft handed down in The Kingdom in recent years; it's clear that the Saudi legal system takes this problem quite seriously.
Ali Sibat's death sentence apparently resulted from advice and predictions he gave on Lebanese television. According to Saudi media, in addition to Sibat, Saudi religious police have arrested at least two others for witchcraft in the past month alone.
In Mr. Sibat's case, the interesting wrinkle is not just that he is a Lebanese citizen, rather than a Saudi subject, but that his criminal activities occurred in Lebanon, not Saudi Arabia. (Unlike, say, Fawza Falih--see below--who is on death row for having "practiced witchcraft, consorted with djinn and slaughtered animals" to make a man impotent.) Sibat was arrested while visiting Saudi Arabia on religious pilgrimage. Evidently, Saudi Arabia's sharia courts claim universal jurisdiction in such matters.

(Then again, since Sibat's show was on a satellite TV station, one could argue that his criminal activities weren't really confined to Lebanon.)

It is not uncommon for foreigners to be sentenced to death and executed (usually by beheading) in Saudi Arabia. Will Ali Sibat be one of them? Jeffrey Goldberg, from whose blog I found out about this news item, predicts "international condemnation if they actually do this." One would hope so.

Meanwhile, those of you who practice witchcraft or sorcery should probably avoid visiting Saudi Arabia.

--Jeff Weintraub
Neal Ungerleider (Falafel Mafia)
Dec. 4 2009 — 8:04 am
Saudi Arabia to execute TV psychic

In the United States, television psychics are merely mocked. In Saudi Arabia, they are executed.

The Saudi Arabian government is planning to execute Lebanese television psychic Ali Sibat. Sibat was found guilty of witchcraft by a Saudi court in November, a crime which carries the death sentence.

It appears that Sibat was targeted for arrest and trial while visiting Saudi Arabia for the Hajj. Saudi Arabia’s special religious police, the Mutaween, grabbed him out of his hotel room and placed the host in custody. Sibat was then tried on charges related to his satellite television show:
Before his arrest, Sibat frequently gave advice on general life questions and predictions about the future on the Lebanese satellite television station Sheherazade, according to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar and the French newspaper Le Monde.
According to Sibat’s supporters in Lebanon, he was denied a lawyer at his trial and “tricked” into making a confession. Sibat’s Lebanese lawyer, May al-Khansa, stated that the television psychic was told he would be deported to Lebanon if he confessed to witchcraft. Instead, Saudi lawyers used Sibat’s confession as proof he deserved the death penalty.

Saudi Arabia routinely sentences foreigners to the death penalty. Additionally, death sentences are usually carried out through public executions — mainly in the infamous Chop-Chop Square.

Unfortunately for Sibat, Saudi Arabian authorities have refused to define what they call “witchcraft,” “sorcery” or “charlatanry.” Saudi Arabia lacks a penal code outside of sharia and judges are given wide latitude in defining criminal acts.

Activist group Human Rights Watch trawled the Saudi press and found other examples of a literal witch hunt taking place in the country:
Saudi newspaper Al-Madina reported on November 15 that a lower court in Jeddah started the trial of a Saudi man arrested by the religious police and said to have smuggled a book of witchcraft into the kingdom. On October 19, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that the religious police in Ta’if had arrested for “sorcery” and “charlatanry” an Asian man who was accused of using supernatural powers to solve marital disputes and induce falling in love. [...]

In February 2008, Human Rights Watch protested the 2006 “discretionary” conviction and sentencing to death for witchcraft of Fawza Falih, a Saudi citizen. Minister of Justice Abdullah Al al-Shaikh responded that Human Rights Watch had a preconceived Western notion of shari’a, but did not answer the organization’s questions about Falih’s arbitrary arrest, coerced confession, unfair trial, and wrongful conviction. She remains on death row in Quraiyat prison, close to the border with Jordan, and is reportedly in bad health.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the 51-year-old Falih was given the death penalty after a man accused her of making him impotent. A Saudi court in the northern town of Quraiyat determined that Falih had practiced witchcraft, consorted with djinn and slaughtered animals in an effort to make the man impotent. According to Saudi authorities, her death was for “the benefit of ‘public interest’ and to ‘protect the creed, souls and property of [Saudi Arabia].’ ” Interestingly, documents surrounding the Falih case indicate that she is a foreigner — a Jordanian — who also got caught up in the Saudi witch hunt.