Death Sentence of Convicted Sorcerer Rejected in Saudi Arabia

November 12, 2010

We welcome the news this week that the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia decided not to ratify the death sentence of a Lebanese man accused of “sorcery”.

The court decided that the death sentence for ‘Ali Hussain Sibat was inappropriate because there was no proof that others were harmed as a result of his actions. ‘Ali will now be retried in a lower court to consider commutation of his death sentence and his release and deportation to Lebanon.

The “sorcery” charges against ‘Ali Hussain Sibat relate to his former role as a presenter on the Lebanese satellite TV station Sheherazade, in which he gave advice and predictions about the future.

When ‘Ali visited Saudi Arabia in May 2008, the religious police arrested him and told him to write down what he did for a living, misleading him into believing that if he did so he would be allowed to go home after a few weeks. This document was presented in court as his “confession” and used by the court to convict him. They jailed him for more than a year before sentencing him to death in November 2009.

In January 2010, the Court of Appeal in Makkah accepted an appeal against his death sentence on the grounds that all the allegations against him had to be verified, and that if he was found to have committed the crime he should be given the opportunity to repent.

Despite this, on March 10 a court in Madina upheld his death sentence after the judges said he deserved to be sentenced to death because he had practiced “sorcery” publicly for several years before millions of viewers. His actions, they said, made him an “infidel” — a word that apparently carries legal weight in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Court of Appeal in Makkah subsequently upheld the death sentence in April 2010 and referred the case to the Supreme Court, who subsequently ordered that the case be retried in the original lower court in Madina to consider commutation of his death sentence and his release and deportation to Lebanon.