Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sorcery charges: Saudi Arabia boldly marches into the 15th century

It seems that sorcery charges are on the rise in Saudi Arabia. This would be funny if the consequences for the accused were not so serious, i.e. death sentence and execution. Yes, you did read it correctly - Saudi Arabia has sentenced people to death on charges of sorcery. In addition, Saudis believe that they can arrest citizens of other countries, Muslims and non-Muslims, and can try them on these charges (we'll see how many are brought against US or European citizens). In 2007, Mustafa Ibrahim, an Egyptian pharmacist working in Saudi Arabia was executed for practicing sorcery. To out-do their own idiocy, now they have passed a death sentence against a popular Lebanese TV host, Ali Hussain Sibat (picture above-right), on sorcery charges. He was arrested from a hotel in Medina in 2008, while he was there for his pilgrimage. Now, let me be clear. I don't agree with psychics, astrologers, palmists, etc. Many of them are charlatans (some are genuinely self-deceived) and often prey on the gullible. But all of this pales in comparison to the barbarity of this Saudi law that declares them to be heretics and then executes them. It is not a joke, but if you are carrying a copy of Harry Potter into Saudi Arabia, be careful - you may actually run into the Middle Ages. By the way, just to underscore the injustice even further, there is no legal definition for sorcery in Saudi Arabia. Instead it is on the discretion of local judges. What a pathetic state of affairs. Here is the story from NPR (tip from Jim Wald):
A Lebanese man who hosted a popular TV show where he gave callers advice and sometimes predicted the future was sentenced to death by a court in Saudi Arabia last month. His charge? Sorcery.

Ali Hussain Sibat's popular call-in show was broadcast on a satellite TV channel in Arabic around the Middle East from Beirut. In May 2008, Sibat traveled to Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. His lawyer, May al-Khansa, says Saudi religious police recognized Sibat from his TV work and arrested him.

"They took him to prison," Khansa says, "and after that they took him to the court many times, asking him, you have to say that you have done something against religion, and after that we will release you and take you to your country."

Sibat confessed to Saudi authorities that he consulted spirits to predict the future. But the authorities didn't release him. Instead, they brought him to a TV studio and told him to confess again. The conversation was broadcast on a Saudi program about religion.

"How do you rate yourself among magicians?" an interviewer asked Sibat.

"What?" said Sibat, clearly nervous. "I have failed. I confess in front of God."

Sibat was then tried in court, and the confession was used against him. He was sentenced to death on Nov. 9. Saudi justice officials would not respond to several requests for comment about his case.

What a shameful act by Saudi authorities. Now, Europe has its own shameful history with witchcraft - especially in early-modern period. There are estimates that tens of thousands of people (predominantly women) were killed on charges of witchcraft between 15th and 17th centuries. There were myriads of reasons but a lot had to do with a society uncomfortable with changing times and looking for someone to blame. Women, especially widowed women, were an easy target. Saudi Arabia is facing its own problems with adjustments to the modern world. But there is simply no excuse of these barbaric acts in the 21st century. Here are some recent sorcery cases in Saudi Arabia (from The Jerusalem Post):

Other cases reveal a zero-tolerance policy towards what the Saudi authorities perceive as witchcraft.

Mustafa Ibrahim, an Egyptian pharmacist working in Saudi Arabia, was executed in November 2007 for sorcery in Riyadh. He was found guilty for trying to separate a married couple "through sorcery," the Ministry of Interior said.

A court in Jeddah tried a Saudi man this month, after he was arrested for smuggling a book of witchcraft into the kingdom.

In a separate case reported by a local Saudi paper, the religious police in Taif arrested an Asian man for "sorcery" and "charlatanry" and accused him of trying to use supernatural powers to solve marital disputes and induce people to fall in love.

Saudi citizen Fawza Falih was sentenced to death for witchcraft in 2006 after a "discretionary" conviction. HRW protested the sentence in 2008, but the Minister of Justice Abdallah Al A-Sheikh responded that the organization had "preconceived Western notions of Sharia (Islamic Law)," and did not answer questions about the judicial process.

According to HRW, after it approached a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Justice in 2008 to define the crime of witchcraft and its associated evidence, "the official confirmed that no legal definition exists and could not clarify what evidence has probative value in witchcraft trials.Saudi Arabia has no penal code and in almost all cases gives judges the discretion to define acts they deem criminal and to set attendant punishments."

Here is another case (from Human Rights Watch):

In another case, a Jeddah criminal court on October 8, 2006 convicted Eritrean national Muhammad Burhan for "charlatanry," based on a leather-bound personal phone booklet belonging to Burhan with writings in the Tigrinya alphabet used in Eritrea. Prosecutors classified the booklet as a "talisman" and the court accepted that as evidence, sentencing him to 20 months in prison and 300 lashes. No further evidence for the charge was introduced at trial. Burhan has since been deported, after serving more than double the time in prison to which the court had sentenced him.

Lets hope this idiocy stops soon.


emre said...

Meanwhile in Turkey, Gulen acolytes are peddling the line that Sharia is better than secular law and that backward Arabs are merely misinterpreting the book...

Atif Khan said...

Saudia Arab is such a pathetic place to be.

zakir said...

Sorcerer's plot part 1/5 english sub

"A video by Saudi Arabia's Government Agency: "General Presidency Of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice", talks about sorcery and black magic from Islamic prospective. Translated to English. it exposes the evil doings of sorcerers who commit blasphemy to witch people and harm them. This is real not fiction; it is from Saudi Arabia's government. Saudi Arabia has special police to track and persecute sorcerers. Many diseases that science can't cure are caused by sorcery, in the west it is generally regarded as psychiatrist disease and only numbed by drugs with no cure. If you suffer from a disease and all your tests are normal, then you are probably witched or eyed."

Anonymous said...

What is secular law can you please define it?
My understanding is that it means something that is not concerned or connected with religion. In that sense this Saudi law is non-Islamic and practically secular. This has nothing to do with Sharia.
Saudi Arabia is not an Islamic state, to put the record straight. Many known laws in that country are in direct contradictions with Sharia and Islamic laws.

emre said...

Err... Saudi Arabia has the Koran as its Constitution, and is governed under Sharia. You may say it's in contradiction with what Islam is really about but my simple answer is: duh, that's a primary reason why theocracy sucks. Sharia is whatever the rulers say it is. Every theocratic country's rulers claim a monopoly on the true, pure interpretation of their religion. Turkish theocrats say the same thing: the other Islamic countries suck because they're not reading the book properly. If you give us a chance, we will show you how nice Sharia really is.

Secular law is that which is passed through legislature in accordance with a secular Constitution, and subject to debate and change. And not at the whims of clerical class.

Dr. Muhammad Akbar Hussain said...

Emre, you said:
"Saudi Arabia has the Koran as its Constitution."
Show me one verse in Koran which suggests death to sorcerer.
Such laws are man-made and in contradiction to Koran itself, practically deviated away from religious teachings...fitting in the very definition of being secular.
"...governed under Sharia"
Just read a news item a minute ago about a Santa robbing a bank.

Was he real Santa or an imposter. Oh, ho, ho, ho!...he WAS Santa...see...the picture explains it. Same goes with Sharia in Saudi Arabia.

emre said...

Sorcery could be considered a false religion, and isn't that punishable? I don't know what the clerics thought.

I never claimed that being secular is sufficient for a law to be "good". But it means it can be questioned and amended, so it can eventually be good. With divine law you're stuck.

I didn't follow the Santa bit.

Anonymous said...

Saudis are bunch of fools and I hope US attack and finish this story too!

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