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.