Saudis to execute woman for 'witchcraft'
Human rights group appeals to Saudi king to stop execution
The Associated Press
Updated 7:54 a.m. ET Feb. 14, 2008
BEIRUT, Lebanon - A leading human rights group appealed to Saudi Arabia's
King Abdullah on Thursday to stop the execution of a woman accused of
Witchcraft and performing supernatural acts.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the kingdom's
Religious police who arrested and interrogated Fawza Falih, and the judges
Who tried her in the northern town of Quraiyat never gave her the
Opportunity to prove her innocence in the face of "absurd charges that have
No basis in law."
Falih's case underscores shortcomings in Saudi Arabia's Islamic legal system
In which rules of evidence are shaky, lawyers are not always present and
Sentences often depend on the whim of judges.
The most frequent victims are women, who already suffer severe restrictions
On daily life in Saudi Arabia: They cannot drive, appear before a judge
Without a male representative, or travel abroad without a male guardian's
What's the crime?
Witchcraft is considered an offense against Islam in the conservative
In Falih's case, the judges relied on a coerced confession and on the
Statements of witnesses who said she had "bewitched" them to convict her in
April 2006, according to the group.
Falih later retracted her confession in court, claiming it was extracted
Under duress, and said that as an illiterate woman, she did not understand
The document she was forced to fingerprint.
"The fact that Saudi judges still conduct trials for unprovable crimes like
'witchcraft' underscores their inability to carry out objective criminal
Investigations," said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
There was no immediate comment on the statement from Saudi Arabia, where
Government offices are closed on Thursdays, the start of the Muslim weekend.
"Fawza Falih's case is an example of how the authorities failed to comply
Even with existing safeguards in the Saudi justice system," he added.
The Saudi court cited an instance in which a man allegedly became impotent
After being bewitched by Falih, the rights group said.
An appeals court ruled in September 2006 that Falih could not be sentenced
To death for witchcraft because she had retracted her confession. But a
Lower court subsequently reissued the death sentence for the benefit of
"public interest" and to "protect the creed, souls and property of this
Country," the group's statement said.
Human Rights Watch's statement came a day after Yakin Erturk, the U.N.
Special investigator for violence against women, wrapped up a 10-day visit
To Saudi Arabia during which she highlighted another controversial case that
Has attracted international criticism.
Ertuk met with Fatima and Mansour al-Timani, who were forcibly divorced by
The wife's family on grounds she had married someone from a lesser tribe.
The couple learned of the divorce on Feb. 25, 2006, when police knocked on
Their door to serve Mansour the divorce papers.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Erturk said she met the wife and husband
Who were in a "terrible state of mind" and that Saudi officials had promised
Her arrangements would be made for the couple's reunion, according to Saudi
Newspaper Arab News.