x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Lebanese man avoids execution for witchcraft

A Lebanese man condemned to death for witchcraft by a Saudi court will not be beheaded today, says his lawyer.

BEIRUT // A Lebanese man condemned to death for witchcraft by a Saudi court will not be beheaded today as had been expected, his lawyer said. Attorney May al-Khansa said Lebanon's justice minister told her that her client, Ali Sibat, would not be executed in Saudi Arabia today - the day executions are typically carried out in the kingdom after noon prayers. She said it is still unclear whether the beheading had been waived or only postponed.

There was no immediate comment from Saudi officials, and the Lebanese justice minister, Ibrahim Najjar, was not available for comment. "Ali Sibat will stay alive this Friday but we don't know what is going to happen the next day, Saturday, Monday, any other day," Ms al-Khansa said. "What the (justice) minister told us was not enough for the family, it is not enough for me, because we really need Ali Sibat to be released."

Sibat, a 49-year-old father of five, made predictions on an Arab satellite TV channel from his home in Beirut. He was arrested by the Saudi religious police during his pilgrimage to the holy city of Medina in May 2008 and sentenced to death last November for witchcraft. The Saudi justice system, which is based on Islamic law, does not clearly define the charge of witchcraft. Sibat is one of scores of people reported arrested every year in the kingdom for practicing sorcery, witchcraft, black magic and fortunetelling. The deeply religious authorities in Saudi consider these practices polytheism.

Sibat's wife, Samira, appealed to Saudi authorities to release her husband. "He didn't do anything wrong ... he did not harm anyone," she said tearfully. "If they want to do a humanitarian thing they will return him to his country." The lawyer added she is slightly optimistic the postponement of the execution meant Sibat would be released. Yesterday, a dozen people rallied near the Saudi embassy in Beirut to protest the impeding execution. New York-based Human Rights Watch said last year Sibat's death sentence should be overturned and called on the Saudi government to halt its "increasing use of charges of 'witchcraft,' crimes that are vaguely defined and arbitrarily used."