Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Saudi Arabia urged to quash witchcraft death sentence

Riyadh street scene
Many Saudi executions are beheadings by the sword in public places

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch has called on Saudi Arabia to overturn a death sentence given to a man convicted of practising witchcraft.

The organisation said Ali Sibat appeared to have been condemned because of psychic predictions he had made on Lebanese TV from his home in Beirut.

He was arrested during his pilgrimage to the Saudi city of Medina last year.

There is no legal definition of witchcraft in Saudi Arabia - a deeply conservative Muslim nation.

The country's religious authorities condemn any practices deemed un-Islamic, including horoscopes and fortune telling.


But BBC Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher says there is still a thirst for such services in a country where widespread superstition survives under the surface of religious orthodoxy.

Human Rights Watch accused Saudi courts of "sanctioning a literal witch hunt by the religious police".

"The crime of 'witchcraft' is being used against all sorts of behaviour, with the cruel threat of state-sanctioned executions," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group's Middle East director.

Human Rights Watch also said reports in Saudi media suggested that two other people had been arrested for witchcraft in the past month.

In addition, a Saudi woman remains on death row after being sentenced for the same crime last year.

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