December 29, 2009

There be witches

In a copyrighted broadcast on December 21st, NPR reported on a death sentence handed by down by a Saudi court. The criminal was the Lebanese host of a popular television advice program in which he would sometime offer predictions of future events. The Arabic language program was broadcast from Beirut by satellite. Ali Hussain Sibat was apprehended as he traveled to Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

So what was his crime? What unspeakable, heinous sin did Sibat commit that would justify capital punishment?


Sibat’s attorney says, "They took him to prison, 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." He admitted his sins, and was promptly sentenced to beheading.

A reasonable person would think that this must be an isolated case, and that such extremes would be rare. But as NPR reports, Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch says that such cases are on the rise in Saudi Arabia, and the religious police have arrested many Saudis and non-Saudis, Muslims and non-Muslims on sorcery charges.

Mr. Sibat, in following the advice of his captors, confessed that he consulted spirits to predict the future. Instead of releasing him they marched him in front of live television cameras and told him to confess again. He was then tried, his confession used against him, and sentenced to die. The Saudis did not respond to several requests for comments from NPR and other news organizations.

Whitson says that "You will never know on any given day whether the book you are reading or the words you are saying are going to be interpreted or used against you deliberately as a form of witchcraft".

Saudi Arabia has no penal code and the “crime” of witchcraft is not specifically defined. In each case the judge is left to decide if the charge is a crime. Most Saudi judges view people who believe in the supernatural as heretics and often sentence them according to their personal Sharia training.

The religious police headquarters in the Saudi capital of Riyadh has an entire department devoted to combating sorcery and witchcraft and regularly distributes pamphlets and DVDs. In one DVD, which is set to religious music, police are shown searching homes for signs of witchcraft.

Mr. Sibat’s case is by no means a unique example of the Saudi’s purposeful march into medieval times. Other cases include a Saudi man who was arrested for smuggling a book about witchcraft into the country, an Asian man accused of using “powers” to solve marital disputes, and a man of unknown nationality given a death sentence for “trying to learn magic.” An Egyptian pharmacist was executed in 2007 on a charge of sorcery.

In yet another case, a Eritrean national was convicted and sentenced to 20 month and 300 lashes on a charge of "charlatanry." The evidence was a leather-bound phone booklet with handwriting in the Tigrinya alphabet commonly used in his home country. The religious police called the phone book a "talisman.” The man was imprisoned for over double his sentenced time, then deported.

We should try to remember… these people are our allies.



Old NFO said...

And THAT is the atypical Sharia law people want to bring HERE??? Sigh...

Mule Breath said...

The Saudi government has actually been trying to limit the reach of the religious police in recent years. Areas involving the supernatural are about the only place left for them, so they flex what muscle they have left with stuff like this.

If you follow some of the splinter xtian groups in the U.S., you can readily see that extremeism like this is not unique to Sharia.

jbrock said...

If you follow some of the splinter xtian groups in the U.S., you can readily see that extremeism like this is not unique to Sharia.

I understand that the spread of Evangelical Christianity in some parts of Africa is driving an increase in the popularity of literal witch hunts there. So ... yeah.

Old NFO said...

Never said it was MB, but I have seen Sharia law up close and personal and I DO NOT want it here.

jeg43 said...

Religion + law = fail.

Kvatch said...

Mule topic but "Feliz Año Nuevo," (de Ecuador) nonetheless!

Mule Breath said...

NFO, I wasn't being critical. You were correct and I was just adding to it. JEG is on the mark with his comment. No nation should allow religious thought to enter into the realm of law.

Kvatch, thanks for the well wishes. Ano novo feliz, in Brasil.