Quick Note: Amnesty Intervenes in Ali Hussain Sibat Case

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 19, 2010 — 24 Comments

As Lebanese citizen, and former television host, Ali Hussain Sibat gets closer to seeing his death sentence for “sorcery” in Saudi Arabia carried out, human rights group Amnesty International joins the chorus of voices calling for King Abdullah to grant him clemency and save his life.

“Amnesty International has called on the King of Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of a Lebanese national, whose death sentence for charges relating to “sorcery” was upheld by a court last week. If the higher courts reject his appeal, ‘Ali Hussain Sibat, a former television presenter for a Lebanese satellite TV station, who gave advice and predictions about the future, could be executed at any time.”

Amnesty International joins Human Rights Watch in calling for Sibat’s release as he sees his final appeals for mercy to Saudi Arabia’s judicial system fall on deaf ears.

“…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 practised “sorcery” publicly for several years before millions of viewers and that his actions “made him an infidel”. The court said also 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.”

Saudi Arabia is unique in the international epidemic of witch-hunts, as its persecutions and deaths seem unambiguously backed by a powerful government, and can’t be explained away as mere superstition or the product of corrupt “bad apple” religious leaders. While the country is currently enacting reforms of its judicial system, it has no codified legal system, and no protections against self-incrimination or forced confession. The Mutaween (religious police) in Saudi Arabia have seemingly run amok, and this recent increase in “sorcery” and “witchcraft”  arrests may be a reaction to the government trying to curb their influence. Which calls into question how much power King Abdullah actually holds over the Mutaween, and if he currently has the political clout to end this barbarity.

What is clear is that Sibat is running out of time, while the realpolitik of America’s current Middle Eastern policy silences our leaders from alienating one of our few powerful allies in that region. This case is important, not because Sibat is “one of us”, but because we shouldn’t tolerate having normal diplomatic relations with any country whose government allows for the killing of “witches” and “sorcerers”. Who brazenly seizes citizens of other countries for these alleged crimes, and whose leadership seems content to allow a theocratic goon-squad to roam freely and terrorize the populace.

Jason Pitzl-Waters