Saudi Arabia and Lebanon: Amnesty International Urges Lebanese Authorities to Intervene to Halt Expected Saudi Arabia Execution

Press Release
March 31, 2010

Saudi Arabia and Lebanon: Amnesty International Urges Lebanese Authorities to Intervene to Halt Expected Saudi Arabia Execution

Amnesty International Press Release
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Amnesty International Urges Lebanese Authorities to Intervene to Halt Expected Saudi Arabia Execution

Contact: AIUSA media office, 202-509-8188  media@aiusa.org

(Washington) –Amnesty International today urged Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, to intervene to help halt the possible imminent execution of a Lebanese national in Saudi Arabia, after the organization received reports that an execution is scheduled for tomorrow.

Amnesty International fears that former television presenter 'Ali Hussain Sibat, convicted on charges of "sorcery" in Saudi Arabia, may be the Lebanese national facing execution.

On March10 a Saudi Arabia court upheld the death sentence against 'Ali Hussain Sibat, after he was convicted in November 2009 on charges of "sorcery", for giving advice and predictions about the future on a Lebanese satellite TV show.

"'Ali Hussain Sibat appears to have been convicted solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression," said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa program.

"We urge the Lebanese authorities to do all they can to prevent this execution," said Smart, "and we are calling on King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia not to let this or other executions go ahead. It is high time the Saudi Arabian government joined the international trend towards a worldwide moratorium on executions."  

'Ali Hussain Sibat was arrested by the Mutawa'een (religious police) in May 2008 while he was visiting Saudi Arabia on a form of Muslim pilgrimage, the 'umra.

His lawyer believes that the TV presenter was arrested because members of the Mutawa'een had recognized him from his show, which was broadcast on the Sheherazade TV station.

The police asked 'Ali Hussain Sibat's to write down what he did for a living, reassuring him that he would be allowed to go home after a few weeks if he complied.

The defendant was convicted after the statement he wrote was presented during the trial as a "confession."

He was sentenced to death by a court in Madina on November 9, 2009 following secret hearings where he was given no legal representation or assistance.

In January 2010, the Court of Appeal in Makkah accepted an appeal against the TV presenter’s death sentence, on grounds that it was a premature verdict.

The Court of Appeal said that all allegations made against 'Ali Hussain Sibat had to be verified, and that if he had really committed the crime he should be asked to repent.

But on March 10, a court in Madina upheld the death sentence. The judges said that he deserved to be sentenced to death because he had practiced "sorcery" publicly for several years before millions of viewers and that his actions "made him an infidel."

The court also said that there would be no way to verify that his repentance, if he should repent, would be sincere and that imposing the death sentence would deter other people from engaging in "sorcery" at a time when, the court said, there is an increase in the number of "foreign magicians" entering Saudi Arabia.

The crime of "sorcery" is not defined in Saudi Arabian law but is used to punish people for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, including the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, belief and expression.

The Saudi Arabian authorities arrested scores of people for "sorcery" in 2009, and have continued to arrest people on the same charges this year.

The last known execution for "sorcery" was that of Egyptian national Mustafa Ibrahim, on November 2, 2007. He had been arrested in May 2007 in the town of Arar, where he worked as a pharmacist, and accused of "apostasy" for having degraded a copy of the Qur'an.

At least 158 people were executed in Saudi Arabia in 2007 and at least 102 in 2008. In 2009, 69 people are known to have been executed, including 19 foreign nationals. Since the beginning of 2010, at least eight people have been executed.

Amnesty International called on the authorities to release 'Ali Hussain immediately and unconditionally if he has been convicted solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.