Death Sentence of Convicted Sorcerer Rejected in Saudi Arabia

We welcome the news this week that the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia decided not to ratify the death sentence of a Lebanese man accused of “sorcery”.

The court decided that the death sentence for ‘Ali Hussain Sibat was inappropriate because there was no proof that others were harmed as a result of his actions. ‘Ali will now be retried in a lower court to consider commutation of his death sentence and his release and deportation to Lebanon.

The “sorcery” charges against ‘Ali Hussain Sibat relate to his former role as a presenter on the Lebanese satellite TV station Sheherazade, in which he gave advice and predictions about the future.

When ‘Ali visited Saudi Arabia in May 2008, the religious police arrested him and told him to write down what he did for a living, misleading him into believing that if he did so he would be allowed to go home after a few weeks. This document was presented in court as his “confession” and used by the court to convict him. They jailed him for more than a year before sentencing him to death in November 2009.

In January 2010, the Court of Appeal in Makkah accepted an appeal against his death sentence on the grounds that all the allegations against him had to be verified, and that if he was found to have committed the crime he should be given the opportunity to repent.

Despite this, on March 10 a court in Madina upheld his death sentence after the judges said he deserved to be sentenced to death because he had practiced “sorcery” publicly for several years before millions of viewers. His actions, they said, made him an “infidel” — a word that apparently carries legal weight in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Court of Appeal in Makkah subsequently upheld the death sentence in April 2010 and referred the case to the Supreme Court, who subsequently ordered that the case be retried in the original lower court in Madina to consider commutation of his death sentence and his release and deportation to Lebanon.

Man Sentenced to Death in Saudi Arabia for 'Sorcery'

Right now, ‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki is facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.  His crime? Sorcery.

‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki is a Sudanese man, about 36 years old.  He was entrapped by a man who worked for the Committee for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), also known as the Mutawa’een (religious police), who asked him to produce a spell so that the man’s father would leave his second wife.  Apparently, ‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki agreed, in exchange for 6,000 Saudi Arabian riyals (about $1600).  When he delivered his work, about 9 pieces of paper with codes written in saffron, he was arrested, reportedly beaten, and coerced into confession.

He didn’t have legal representation and his trial was held in secret. He was sentenced to death on March 27, 2007 and remains in Madina prison. Amnesty International believes him to be at imminent risk of execution.

In Saudi Arabia the death penalty can be imposed for a wide number of offenses and carries out executions. So far, at least 17 people have been executed in 2010.  “Sorcery” isn’t actually defined as a crime in Saudi Arabian law, but it’s been used to punish people for the peaceful expression of human rights such as the freedom of thought, belief, conscience and expression. In fact, scores of people were arrested for sorcery in 2009.  A man was executed for sorcery in 2007 and others, like ‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki have been sentenced to death.

‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki’s case raises so many human rights concerns from the freedoms of religion and expression to unfair trials, and the use of the death penalty.  It’s been three years since his death sentence, but Amnesty International has a new action on his case.  During the month of Ramadan, Saudi Arabia has a moratorium on executions.  Additionally, the King often issues amnesties and pardons to some prisoners.  We’d like your help to write the King about ‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki’s case to ask for the death sentence to be commuted and, if the conviction is based only on the exercise of his religious freedom, for release.

Will you help ‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki?

Read more about Amnesty International’s Urgent Action on ‘Abdul Hamid al-Fakki

Ready to act? Click here for a sample letter.

Linda Veazey, Amnesty International country specialist for Saudi Arabia contributed to this post

Saudi Arabia Set to Execute Soothsayer for Sorcery

UPDATE (4/2/10):  ‘Ali Hussain Sibat has been granted a stay of execution.  But there was no indication that Sibat’s death sentence would be commuted or that he would be released.

Having worked on death penalty cases both internationally and the United States for more than two decades, I’ve gotten used to some strange and unnerving stories.  But today comes one from Saudi Arabia that has to rank toward the top of my outrage scale.

A Lebanese national, possibly ‘Ali Hussain Sibat, is reported to be at imminent risk of execution and could be executed as early as tomorrow in Saudi Arabia, according to information received today by Amnesty International.

‘Ali Hussain Sibat, who is 46 and has five children, was a presenter on a TV show on the Lebanese satellite TV station Sheherazade, where he gave advice and predictions about the future. He was arrested by the Mutawa’een (religious police) on charges of “sorcery” in May 2008 while he was in Saudi Arabia to perform a form of Muslim pilgrimage, the ‘umra.

‘Ali Hussain Sibat was sentenced to death by a court in Madina in November 2009 after secret court hearings where he had no legal representation or assistance. Amnesty International is concerned that the charge of “sorcery” and others arose solely from the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

This has to stop.  The death penalty is wrong is all cases, but in this particular one, the range of outrages from the unfair trial to the nature of the charges requires special action.  CNN has picked up on the story.

Time is short.  Please fax the king of Saudi Arabia and have him stop this travesty.  The address is below:

King and Prime Minister

His Majesty King ‘Abdullah Bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Al-Saud

The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques

Office of His Majesty the King

Royal Court, Riyadh

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior)

+966 1 403 1185 (please keep trying)