Archives For human rights

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Witchy fashion? Spring 2013 Saint Laurent collection. (Photo: NYT)

Witchy fashion? Spring 2013 Saint Laurent collection. (Photo: NYT)

  • Witches: Always fashionable. Quote: “Witchcraft and its moody expressions — long weedy hair, peaked hats and pointy boots — have attained a strange cachet of late. No longer the hideous wart-covered crone of folklore and fairy tale, the witch of current films, like “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” and recent youth-oriented novels like “Released Souls” and “A Discovery of Witches,” has swept aside the vampire as a symbol of power, glamour and style.”
  • Glub, glub! We’re submerged in the occult says “ex-Satanists” Jeff Harshbarger! Quote: “Our society is submerged in the occult; Harry Potter has filled the minds of our children for a decade and vampirism meets our teens with the illusions of grandeur. Witchcraft went mainstream decades ago, and Wicca is its offspring.” Sinister!  Maybe all these “former occultists” should spend more time being better Christians instead of trying to sell books. 
  • Zimbabwe seems intent on starting up a moral panic around Satanism with, quote,  “some people going as far as blaming the Witchcraft Suppression Act for “protecting” suspects and witchcraft practitioners.” It has all the hallmarks of America’s Satanic Panic, but with the added danger of people (suspected Satanists) being killed by angry/fearful mobs. This can’t be going anywhere good. 
  • In an addendum to the Salem (Missouri) Public Library occult filtering case I reported on earlier this week, the Riverfront Times publishes the official, quite defensive, statement from the library on the case’s resolution. Quote: “Under the judgment, the library will continue to use the same internet screening provider it has used for many years. This is the same internet screening service provider as ninety percent of public libraries in Missouri. Months prior to the time the lawsuit was filed, the provider used by the library made changes in its minimal screening categories which the Salem Public Library and many other libraries in the state adopted. By agreeing to the consent judgment, the Salem Public Library does nothing more than agree to continue to use the new updated categories recommended by its service provider and adopted by the library before the suit was filed.” Shorter version: we will never admit we did anything wrong. 
T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

  • T. Thorn Coyle writes for The Huffington Post about John Brennan, Sekhmet and the Fires of War. Quote: “We are damaging ourselves, our souls, and the earth. We are dealing out death at a distance, and slowly dying inside. Freedom is hard to bear. But so is war. So is our enslavement and inner blindness. How shall we waken to the light that dawns over the desert so beautifully? If life and death are sacred, what is our role in these wars being fought via real-time video? We try to distance ourselves from the cycles of the earth, but in the long run, this simply is not possible.”
  • The Havasupai Tribe and environmental groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service for failing to adequately protect land sacred to the tribe and moving forward on a controversial uranium mine. Quote: “The complaint (full text) in Grand Canyon Trust v. Williams, (D AZ, filed 3/7/2013) claims that the Forest Service failed to comply with environmental, mining, public land, and historic preservation laws. It alleges, among other things, that while the Forest Service has designated the area as Traditional Cultural Property and has recognized that it is a sacred site to the Havasupai Tribe and has begun consultations with the Tribe, it refuses to carry out a complete “Section 106 process” under the National Historic Preservation Act, which would include developing a memorandum of agreement with the tribe and state historic preservation office before restarting mining operations.”
  • Got caught being a scam artist? Convert to Christianity! It’s a fabulous PR move. Quote: “Chan converted to Christianity and renounced his former practice ofgeomancy just weeks before appearing in court for forging the will of one of Hong Kong’s richest women, billionaire Nina Wang, whom Chan also claimed to be his girlfriend.”
  • The site Pagan Dharma has returned from Internet limbo, Some of the rationale for why it’s back can be found, here
  • Heiner Bielefeld, in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, says that blasphemy laws should be ended, and that they endanger religious minorities. Quote: “Speaking on the fringes of the rights council on Wednesday, Bielefeld said criminalizing concepts like blasphemy was dangerous for free speech because there could be no common definition of what it was.”
  • says the goddess Columbia is cool. Quote: “As a personification of the United States, Columbia is far less sinister and far more charismatic than her coattailed counterpart: She’s the goddess-like figure who inspired all the women in breastplates from the women’s suffrage marches of 1913.”
  • A reality television Witch. Move along, nothing to see here.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

The Australian Human Rights Commission is publishing a new report today on attitudes towards religion, and the results don’t seem to be very favorable for religious minorities in that country.

“Distrust of Muslims and hostility towards homosexuals and pagans remain widespread in Australia, a new Australian Human Rights Commission report to be published today says. […] genuine religious differences have not become any easier to manage. Pagans (nature-based religions, such as Wicca) in particular claim to face prejudice and discrimination.”

The Pagan Awareness Network in Australia has issued a press release on the matter, noting the many challenges that adherents to modern Pagan faiths still face.

“This is something we have been saying for years,” Pagan Awareness Network President David Garland said today. “Imagine going to the Family Court during a bitter custody battle and having to explain under cross-examination that you practice Wicca, or Druidism, or another pagan spirituality. Imagine the stress, fearing you will lose custody of your children simply because you follow a minority religion. Or imagine being at school, and being ordered to take off the five-pointed star you wear around your neck because it is supposedly an “occult symbol”, while your Jewish classmates can continue to wear their six-pointed stars. Not to mention the Christian kids with their crosses, Muslim girls with their headscarves and all the other religious traditions out there. It is absurd that existing anti-discrimination laws don’t protect pagans in this kind of situation.

There were rumblings about this uneasiness towards Pagans in Australia back in September of 2010 when the commission issued a draft of the survey results and gained attention for the stark animus some Australians had towards Witches and Pagans.

Hilda Simpson argues that Christian groups should not be forced to hire ”practising homosexuals, promiscuous heterosexuals or believers in witchcraft”. Witches, pornography supporters and homosexuals dismay Glen and Joy Vonhoff, while Gail Osmak identifies ”fortune telling, sorcery, witchcraft [as] of real concern”. C. L. Miller is more trenchant: ‘‘It would be an egregious mistake to treat the malignancy of witchcraft and its occult devil-worshipping practices as if it were a benevolent, benign and misunderstood belief system … The original anti-witchcraft laws were based on authentic reasons, not whims.”

While some tried to explain away the anti-Pagan remarks as a glitch in the data due to a surplus of “elderly church leaders who happen to be male and anti-Muslim and gays and pagans and witches,” it seems the concern was real enough to make an impression in the final report.

The 2006 Australian census found that there were around 30,000 Pagans in the country, making them a significant religious minority. Or as Pagan Awareness Network puts it: “Pagans outnumber the Sikh, Jain, Quaker and Taoist communities in Australia combined.” Pagans from and in Australia recently made a major impression at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in late 2009, but have also faced a seemingly regular barrage of scorn, hostility, and prejudice from politicians, religious leaders, and media pundits. We shouldn’t forget that despite the fact that Australia currently boasts an atheist Prime Minister, the country’s two dominant political parties participated in an 2010 election-season event that was closed to non-Christians and broadcasted only to Christian churches. So there’s clearly a lot of work to do before modern Pagans, and other religious minorities, are treated with the respect and dignity they are entitled to.

It remains to be seen what recommendations the Human Rights Commission might make to the government on its findings, if any. Once a copy of “Freedom of Religion and Belief in 21st Century Australia” is posted to the Australian Human Rights Commission web site, I’ll update with more information and a link.

ADDENDUM: You can download the commission’s report, here.

Here’s a brief excerpt from their section on Paganism in Australia.

“Paganism is an umbrella term that covers a number of nature-based spiritual traditions. The consultations and submissions revealed significant areas of concern regarding paganism and pagans’ ability to practice their faith in Australia. Pagans believe that the lack of information or understanding of their faith complicates issues; many in the wider community assume that Satanism is a part of paganism, when it is separate and distinct.Recognition was raised as the biggest issue that underlies other matters. According to the Pagan Awareness Network, there are approximately 30 000 people in Australia who follow a pagan or nature-based religion, andthis is confirmed by the 2006 Census, which also shows the significant, recent growth of paganism.”

The study also notes that improving attitudes towards indigenous religions may also benefit modern Pagan faiths.

“Indigenous people’s freedom of religion and belief need to be protected in the same way as those of other groups. At one time recognised as legitimate religions and spiritualities, Indigenous religions and spiritualitiesare now swept up in the blanket-dismissal of pagan religions and beliefs, and are officially disparaged anddiscriminated against by some religious groups in Australia. Coming to appreciate Indigenous religions and spiritualities may assist these groups to re-examine the basis for and practice of their dismissal of pagan spiritualities, which include most of the earth-based, nature, and Wiccan spiritualities current in Australia.

These quotes are just from a cursory scan, I’ll no doubt have more to say on this later.

Word has come that Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat will not be executed in Saudi Arabia for the crime of sorcery.  Sibat, who was seized by Saudi Arabia’s religious police in 2008 while returning from the holy city of Mecca, was accused of sorcery and sentenced to death for making televised predictions about the future in Lebanon.

“May al-Khansa told The Associated Press that the Saudi ambassador in Beirut informed the Lebanese justice minister that the execution of Ali Sibat would not take place. “He confirmed to me that there will be no execution,” al-Khansa said about her conversation with Ibrahim Najjar, Lebanon’s justice minister. She refused to go into details but said “matters are going in the right direction. We have faith in Saudi Arabia’s judicial system,” she added, noting that Sibat’s actions are not considered a crime in Lebanon.”

This development comes after ongoing international media attention to Sibat’s case, spurred in part by campaigns from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. But what may have ultimately saved Sibat’s life were behind the scenes negotiations between the Saudi and Lebanese governments, spurred by outrage in Lebanon over the situation.

“In Lebanon they have rallied behind Sabat, calling on politicians to take a stronger stance. On Thursday, protesters gathered in front of the Saudi embassy in Beirut where they reenacted a mock hanging to protest Sabat’s sentence.”[Saudis] come to our country and literally do whatever they want, thinking that Lebanon is theirs [thanks] to our dear politicians!!” one commenter wrote on a popular online political forum. “What kind of country is Lebanon…. They can’t step in to stop this injustice?” Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar told Agence France-Presse that he had asked Saudi authorities to reconsider the severity of the sentence, adding that the same conviction in Lebanon is a misdemeanor punishable by a few months in jail. Though Sabat’s “mother should rest assured” for now, Najjar said…”

What happens next is unknown, but for the moment, we can take some solace in the fact that Sibat has been spared the death penalty, and hope that this means he will soon be reunited with his wife and family.

For my full coverage of this story, including the revelation that there’s a Pagan community in Lebanon, click here.

Top Story: Neighbors of Betty Marquez in Tracy, California, are upset that the practitioner of Santeria is holding religious gatherings and performing animal sacrifice at her home. Marquez, who is quick to point out that the animals are slaughtered humanely, and eaten afterwards, says she feels as if she is being harassed, while at least one neighbor is eager to prove he isn’t prejudiced by saying something that sounds pretty prejudiced.

“We used to spend a lot of time in our yard, and now there’s bongos and loud singing, and we just don’t feel good about it anymore,” he said. “We’re not prejudiced. We’re very fair. Take that stuff outside of town.”

Meanwhile, another neighbor has contacted PETA (People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who called the cops on their behalf, and is “staying in contact with authorities” concerning the matter.

“Of course we’re against religious sacrifice,” Martin Merserau said. “We’re against animal abuse in many forms, whether you’re dragging a knife across the throat of an animal for quote-unquote religious purposes or not.”

PETA, perhaps feeling that their racist, sexist, sizeist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and transphobic campaigns haven’t been going far enough, they now feel the need to attack minority religions as well by getting involved in a local spat. Never mind the sheer hypocrisy of calling animal sacrifice “abuse”, while they “humanely” euthanize thousands of healthy unwanted animals, and have even had employees charged with illegal disposal of animal corpses. I guess context is king. All I know is that I’ve been a vegan for years, and I’ve never supported this group. As for Marquez, considering the recent win for Jose Merced in court, it’s going to be increasingly hard to enforce animal slaughter laws against Santeria practitioners.

More Fodder for Sharkey’s Ever-Hungry Ego: Joseph Laycock, author of  “Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism”, decides to give more attention to Jonathon ‘The Impaler’ Sharkey for an essay at Religion Dispatches. Why? To make the point that Sharkey’s buffoonish extremism now seems almost normal in today’s ultra-polarized political landscape.

“The Impaler” arose during the Bush Administration, seeking popular appeal by promising to kill an unpopular president. And while he has continued this strategy during the Obama era, sadly he no longer seems nearly as crazed and peripheral next to the extreme fringes of the Tea Party movement. Simply put, violent rhetoric has become more acceptable. Progressives have criticized Sarah Palin for a political “hit list” on her Facebook page that features gun crosshairs over the home states of targeted Democrats. Sharkey and Palin are in effect both catering to the same sentiment. While Palin has never called for the impalement of Harry Reid, her supporters might not take offense if she did.

I suppose I see the point he’s trying to make, but I object to giving this criminal, who has shown a pattern of having inappropriate, and sometimes threatening, interactions with young girls, any more media-driven oxygen. I almost didn’t comment on this story because I want nothing more than to see Sharkey fade off into obscurity until he’s finally imprisoned for stepping too far over the line. Of course he’s calling for Witch-hunts! He is desperate for our attention, because without it, he’ll be forced to face the life he’s created for himself. So barring some truly newsworthy event involving Sharkey, the topic will no longer come up at this blog, and I urge everyone in the Pagan and Vampire communities to follow suit. As for Laycock, check out the interview with him about modern Vampirism at the always-excellent TheoFantastique blog.

Starhawk and Social Justice: In the wake of the Glenn Beck/Jim Wallis spat, author, activist, and On Faith panelist Starhawk weighs in on “social justice” in the context of modern Paganism.

“While Pagans do not have a set creed or unified code of beliefs, our traditions hold in common the understanding that we are all deeply interconnected, all part of the sacred weave of the world. The Goddess is immanent in this world and in all human beings, and part of our service to the sacred is to honor one another and take care of one another, to fairly share nature’s bounty and to succor one another in facing the hardships of life. We must create justice in this world, not wait for redress of grievances in the next. No one person or group has the right to commandeer nature’s resources, which are the underpinnings of all wealth. Generosity, justice and fairness are old Pagan virtues…”

I’m personally all for social justice, but then I’ve never been all that offended when people called me a socialist because of it. Which I suppose makes me one the 36% of Americans who have a favorable opinion towards the ideology. Not that social justice has to be equated with socialism, but I’m not the one blurring those lines in order to score political points.

South African Pagans and Inclusion: The Richmark Sentinel focuses on South African Pagan Council’s (SAPC) quest for representation at the country’s national multi-faith organizations.

The South African Pagan Council says its being ignored by the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM), National Religious Leaders Forum (NRLF) and National Interfaith Leaders Council (NILC) … Asatruar Charles van Bergen, the representative of the South African Pagan Council (SAPC) tasked with negotiating the inclusion of Pagan religious leaders to both the NILC and its forerunner the National Religious Leaders Forum (NRLF), thinks South Africa is not achieving its stated intention to facilitate cooperative inter-religious participation. “Organizations such as Home Affairs and SARS have been forced to abide by the laws pertaining to such things, but other than that an active policy of passive-aggressive exclusion of Pagans is the status quo countrywide.”

Why does the SAPC want a voice in predominately socially conservative and anti-pagan multi-faith organizations? To remind the leaders of the dominant faiths in South Africa that other opinions exist and should be respected.

“I believe the SAPC’s presence on both the NILC and the NRLF will ensure that religious policies and dialogue maintain respect for the rights of minorities who do not necessarily agree with the conservative views and positions expressed by members of these organizations. We’d like the right to participate and contribute constructively to our Nation’s spiritual and moral values.”

The SAPC is currently involved in supporting the 30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts campaign, and is one of three legally recognized Pagan organization in South Africa (along with The South African Pagan Rights Alliance and the Correllian Nativist Tradition S.A.). I wish them luck in trying to change opinions concerning modern Paganism in South Africa.

Ongoing Tensions in Haiti: Reporters from the Miami Herald look at the ongoing tensions and deteriorating relations between faiths in post-earthquake Haiti, and mention that a human rights lawyer went before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last month, calling for an investigation into anti-Vodou attacks.

Last month, Mario Joseph, a Haitian human rights lawyer, went before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking an investigation of attacks against Vodouists after several were stoned by Evangelical pastors in the Cité Soleil slum. “In other zones of the country,” he told the commission, “particularly in the commune of Verrettes in the Artibonite, literal witch hunts have been launched against priests and practitioners of this religion.”

This news of “literal witch hunts” is deeply troubling, and there seems to be no real investigation of this by the press, many of whom have moved on now that the initial disaster is over with. In the chaos, with international eyes turned elsewhere, and the government still powerless, is there a quiet campaign of violence and intimidation against Vodou practitioners under way?

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Saudi Arabia’s Internal War Against Other Faiths: A few quick notes for you on this Saturday, starting with another story out of Saudi Arabia of a foreign national being held on dubious charges. This time a Hindu Indian woman and her newborn child are being kept in solitary confinement after being accused of poisoning her husband for converting to Islam.

“An Indian doctor in Saudi Arabia has been in solitary confinement with her infant child for nearly 18 days pending investigations into her husband’s suspected murder, after he allegedly converted to Islam. Her husband, also a doctor in Najran, died on January 31. Suspicion that he was poisoned was raised a month later despite certification by a legal medical specialist under the health ministry that cause of death was “myocardial infarction” (heart attack). The spanner came while the family was preparing to leave for India with the body following clearance by the Indian Consulate General in Jeddah … On March 1, the doctor was summoned to a local police station and told that her husband had embraced Islam before his death and for that reason she could not carry the body to India. A fortnight later, she was again made to report to the police and put in solitary confinement with her infant son, born to her on February 18.”

Despite there being no proof of the husband’s conversion, no proof that his wife poisoned him, and no documentation of the supposed “new evidence” being provided to the Indian Consul, she’s been held now for nearly three months, with local authorities engaging in the now-familiar strong-arm tactics.

“The doctor told her mother on being allowed a meeting that investigators had asked her who else was involved with her in the alleged crime.”

No doubt she’s been asked to write a “confession” as well, just like Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, currently on death row for being a television psychic, and making the mistake of traveling through Saudi Arabia. However, unlike Lebanon, India is a rising economic and nuclear power, and it remains to be seen if Saudi Arabian government will allow this to become an international incident. It’s one thing for a government to oppress its people, this is fairly commonplace, even today. It’s quite another thing for a government to start randomly seizing foreign nationals on trumped-up charges, especially when it seems those being seized are adherents to faiths or beliefs that place them outside the semi-protected “people of the book”. Eventually the crazed religious police and heretic hunters will seize the wrong man or woman, and they’ll find themselves unprotected by the realpolitik that keep the voices crying out about their human rights abuses muffled.

Margot Adler on Journalism and Blogs: The Colorado Daily Camera asks “Drawing Down the Moon” author and NPR journalist Margot Adler five questions while she’s in town for the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado, and she says some smart (and nice) things about journalism and new media.

I don’t believe in objectivity, but I do believe deeply in fairness, and what that means to me is that when I interview any person, no matter what their politics or views, I try to stand in their shoes. Because I’m very aware of what I believe, I bend absolutely backwards when I talk to (someone I don’t agree with) … I am very excited by some of the new media stuff, I’m very excited by the potential of blogs and I’m excited by some of the independent radio stuff that’s happening. I think that communities talking to each other are really important.

What to say other than I agree with Margot Adler? I too think that fairness is more important than a false objectivity, especially today, and that new media options are empowering communities to inform themselves.

Hindu Voting Power in the UK: In a final note, now that the next general election in the UK has been scheduled for May 6th, The Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB) is encouraging the 3/4 of a million British Hindus to use their votes strategically in order to elect candidates that are responsive to their needs.

“Though dispersed throughout UK, sizeable number of Hindus are concentrated in certain areas like the suburbs of London and the south east, Leicester, West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire. In some of these areas, Hindu vote may have a significant impact on who represents them and addresses their concerns in Parliamen … The Forum is implementing a campaign to encourage the community to engage with their prospective parliamentary candidates and to air their views before making an informed decision as to which party to vote for. As part of the campaign, the Forum will be organizing local hustings, distributing information through temples, community centres and other mediums to raise awareness on the importance of voting.”

What’s interesting about this campaign is that it isn’t centered around a blanket endorsement of Labour or the Tories, but is instead asking individuals to evaluate local candidates and to vote for the one most responsive to Hindu issues and concerns. With many predicting a “hung Parliament” due to the race being so close, they may be able to press this situation to gain attention and concessions they never have before. I think religious minorities, especially Pagans, should pay close attention to this campaign, and see if a similar non-partisan issues-focused strategy could benefit us.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

The Los Angeles Times’ Middle East-focused blog “Babylon & Beyond” has an excellent look at the current situation of Ali Sibat, a Lebanese citizen who was arrested and sentenced to death for the crime of “sorcery” in Saudi Arabia. They not only touch on the political manipulations inside Saudi Arabia that might be fueling this rush to judicial murder, a theme touched on in a previous report by NPR, but also focus on the Lebanese citizens who are outraged at this miscarriage of justice.

The Arabic writing on the banners reads:”Don’t kill.” Credit: Bilal Hussein / AP

“In Lebanon they have rallied behind Sabat, calling on politicians to take a stronger stance. On Thursday, protesters gathered in front of the Saudi embassy in Beirut where they reenacted a mock hanging to protest Sabat’s sentence. “[Saudis] come to our country and literally do whatever they want, thinking that Lebanon is theirs [thanks] to our dear politicians!!” one commenter wrote on a popular online political forum.”

In Lebanon the crime of “sorcery” is a misdemeanor, and punishable by, at worst, a couple months in jail. In addition, the report tells us that television psychic call-in shows, such as the one Sibat hosted, are hugely popular in Lebanon, and are broadcast across the Middle East. It was, in fact, Sibat’s television show that led the Mutaween (religious police) in Saudi Arabia to single out and seize him as he was returning from a pilgrimage.

For the moment there is a stay of execution, but there is no clue as to if it is only temporary, or if Sibat’s life will truly be spared. This show of force by conservative factions in Saudi Arabia, and the hesitancy of Lebanese politicians to directly challenge their powerful neighbor place Sibat in a precarious situation. As I pointed out the other day, Saudi Arabia brazenly grabbing pilgrims and sentencing them to death for “sorcery” or “witchcraft” endangers the lives of any who don’t toe the line of Sunni hard-liners, including the small community of modern Pagans and occultists living in Lebanon.

I’ll keep you posted of any developments, in the meantime, I encourage you to read and follow the links at “Babylon & Beyond”. You may also want to catch up on my previous coverage of this case.

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.

As a counter-point to the Saudi Arabia article I posted earlier this morning, the country of Nepal, as part of the U.N.’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (That’s today!) and the White Ribbon campaign to end violence against women, has launched a one-month media campaign to end witch-hunts against women in Nepal.

“…the Office of the Prime Minister and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR) have jointly launched a one minute television clip highlighting the violence against women who are alleged to be practicing witchcraft.  A one-minute clip will be broadcast from the state-controlled Nepal Television just before the prime news at 8pm every day for the next one month. OHCHR and the PM’s office decided to air such video as a large number of women alleged to be practicing witchcraft mostly in the rural Terai have been ill-treated, tortured, brutally beaten up, and forced to eat human excreta.”

This is a big step, and should hopefully start a larger trend of governments taking the international witch-hunting epidemic seriously (Nepal is also taking part in the 2010 international initiative against violence towards women). It seems only natural that a country that honors “living goddesses” should concern itself with the welfare and safety of its women. If you’d like to thank Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal for addressing this issue, you can contact the Nepalese government, here.

Human rights groups have known for some time that the Mutaween (religious police) in Saudi Arabia has run amok. Operating with near impunity thanks to backing from the government, with special squads dedicated solely to rooting out “witchcraft and sorcery”, they roam Saudi Arabia looking for any hint of theological impropriety. Little can be done, because the country is virtually immune from outside pressures thanks to the policy of Realpolitik, which tells world leaders that oil and a strategic ally in the Middle East are more important than justice or human rights. A reality that condemns women like Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali, and others like her, to certain death. Now this sad state of affairs has made international headlines once again, as a Lebanese television presenter who made predictions about the future, and was arrested last year while on pilgrimage, has been sentenced to death for the crime of witchcraft.

“Ali Sibat’s death sentence apparently resulted from advice and predictions he gave on Lebanese television. According to Saudi media, in addition to Sibat, Saudi religious police have arrested at least two others for witchcraft in the past month alone. “Saudi courts are sanctioning a literal witch hunt by the religious police,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The crime of ‘witchcraft’ is being used against all sorts of behavior, with the cruel threat of state-sanctioned executions.” Religious police arrested Ali Sibat in his hotel room in Medina on May 7, 2008, where he was on pilgrimage before returning to his native Lebanon. Before his arrest, Sibat frequently gave advice on general life questions and predictions about the future on the Lebanese satellite television station Sheherazade, according to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar and the French newspaper Le Monde. These appearances are said to be the only evidence against Sibat.”

Human Rights Watch also notes that Saudi Arabia has no codified penal code, with individual judges deciding what is and isn’t proper evidence for “witchcraft” and “sorcery”.  Critics of this farce of a legal system are told that they have a “preconceived Western notion of shari’a” and ignored. Saudi Arabia is unique in the international epidemic of witch-hunts, as its persecutions and deaths are unambiguously backed by powerful government, and can’t be explained away as mere superstition or the product of corrupt “bad apple” religious leaders.

So what can be done? We can demand that governments start taking off the kid gloves with Saudi Arabia, no matter how friendly they’ve been with us in the past. We can also continue the work of raising the concerns of modern Pagans on this issue to the world stage, and with priestess, author, and attorney, Phyllis Curott (who has fought valiantly on behalf of Fawza Falih Muhammad) now on the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions (along with two other Pagans) I feel that this process is well underway. Until then, we can pray and work for the innocent “witches and sorcerers” held and threatened with death for possessing the wrong books, believing the wrong things, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.