11/26/2009, 00.00
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Riyadh: man to be decapitated for witchcraft

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch calls for the sentence to be overturned. Each year, dozens of people are convicted in the desert kingdom for acts against Sharia.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Saudi Arabia should overturn a death sentence imposed on a Lebanese national convicted of practicing witchcraft during a visit to the conservative kingdom, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report. The international human rights group also complained about the increasing use of charges of 'witchcraft,' crimes that are vaguely defined and arbitrarily used, to arbitrarily arrest and detain people across the kingdom.

The report highlights ongoing complaints over the Saudi justice system, which, whilst based on Islamic law, leaves a wide leeway to individual judges and can often result in dramatically inconsistent sentences.

Ali Sibat, a Lebanese psychic who made predictions on a satellite TV channel from his home in Beirut, was arrested by religious police in the holy city of Madinah during a pilgrimage in May 2008 and then sentenced to death by decapitation on 9 November this year.

“He was the most popular psychic on the channel,” said May al-Khansa, Sibat’s lawyer. “The number of callers, including from all over the Gulf, spiked in number when he appeared,” she added. “He was told if he confessed to witchcraft, he will be released and allowed to return to Lebanon.”

Sibat’s case is not unique. Dozens of people are arrested each year on charges like witchcraft, recourse to supernatural beings, black magic and fortune telling. These practices are considered polytheistic and severely punished according to Sharia rules.

HRW’s report also mentioned the case of Mustafa Ibrahim, an Egyptian pharmacist who was executed on 2 November 2007 for sorcery, which he allegedly used to break up a married couple.

In October 2006, a criminal court in the city of Jiddah convicted Eritrean national Muhammad Burhan for being a "charlatan," based on a leather-bound personal phone booklet containing writing in Eritrea's Tigrinya alphabet, and sentenced him to 20 months in prison and 300 lashes. He was eventually deported after serving more than double the time in prison.

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