Saudi Arabia plans to behead woman accused of being a witch

Daily Telegraph, 14 February 2008

Saudi Arabia’s religious police plan to behead a woman accused of being a witch, a human rights group said yesterday.

Human Rights Watch has asked the country’s king to intervene over “absurd charges that have no basis in law”.

Fawza Falih was arrested and interrogated in the northern town of Quraiyat two years ago and was sentenced to death.

The judges who convicted her relied on her forced confession and the statements of witnesses who said she had “bewitched” them.

One man claimed that he became impotent after Falih cast a spell on him.

Witchcraft is considered an offence against Islam in the conservative kingdom.

Sharia law beheadingBrutal: Saudi law punishes ‘witches’ by beheading them

Falih retracted her confession in court, saying it was extracted under duress and that she could not understand the document because she is illiterate.

The death sentence was lifted on appeal, but reimposed in the name of “public interest” shortly afterwards.

Joe Stork, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The fact that Saudi judges still conduct trials for unprovable crimes like ‘witchcraft’ underscores their inability to carry out objective criminal investigations.

“Fawza Falih’s case is an example of how the authorities failed to comply even with existing safeguards in the Saudi justice system.”

Saudi Arabia does not have a written penal code, although a law imposed in 2002 supposedly grants defendants the right to be tried in person and to have a lawyer present during interrogation and trial.

But this is often ignored and sentences can depend on the whim of judges.

The most frequent victims of whimsical rulings are women, who already suffer severe restrictions in their daily life.

Last year, a woman was sentenced to a public lashing after being gang-raped by five men who found her in a car with a man who was not related to her – a crime in itself.

The sentence was lifted after an international outcry.

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