A television psychic traveling through the country of Saudi Arabia has been condemned to death by Saudi courts. Ali Sabat, not native to the country, was traveling through on a Pilgrimage when he was nabbed earlier last year by police. Mr. Sabat is known for his television appearance as a psychic who makes predictions on Lebanese Satellite television stations along with advice for relationships and life in general. Needless to say, public outcry to the sentence has been tremendous.
The Mutaween, Saudi Arabia’s special forces for religious crimes grabbed Ali in his hotel room last year and tied him to charges of Witchcraft. Sabat was denied legal counsel at his trial, according to sources close to Sabat, though Sibat’s Lebanese lawyer said that Mr. Sibat had been lied to by authorities who promised him safe departure from the country in the form of deportation from Saudi Arabia rather than a stiffer crime such as imprisonment. Fearing a stiffer sentence, Sibat confessed to the charges of witchcraft, but soon after lawyers used the confession to secure the death penalty.
Public executions for visitors in Saudi Arabia are not unheard of given the wide latitude sharia law allows for defining general terms such as “Witchcraft” and “Sorcery.” Given the nature of the charges, and the misconduct alleged to have been perpetrated by the Saudi judicial system, human rights activists are proclaiming their disdain for the event.
Human Rights Watch has had a long history with religious executions such as this one, although never one quite this high profile. In 2008 they protested the sentencing and execution of Fawza Falih for the charge of “witchcraft” that year. Of course the circumstances were similar to the current case, and it is expected the outcome will be as well. Still, perhaps Sibat’s high profile nature as a television personality will grant him a stay of execution or at least an appeal with the possibility of a change of venue back to his home country, where no doubt the charges would be dropped (if a case was even pursued to begin with.) Still, if this is the case, time is now running out for Mr. Sibat.
The 2006 case of Muhammad Burhan ended with Mr. Burhan being found to be in possession of an illegal “talisman” after he was found with a phone book containing words written in the Tigrinya alphabet. After the incident, Burhan was sentenced to 20 months in prison accompanied by 300 lashings by a whip.
“Saudi judges have harshly punished confessed ‘witches’ for what at worst appears to be fraud, but may well be harmless acts,” the Director for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch, “Saudi judges should not have the power to end lives of persons at all, let alone those who have not physically harmed others.” The highly political incident has received relatively little attention by world media despite its sensational nature.
Serving only to inform, rather than decide for readers, there are opinions that can be drawn from this story without getting into the execution itself. It still holds as a universal prerogative that it’s always important to be aware of your environment‘s social climate, particularly if traveling. Some regions have specific customs that may not coincide with personal beliefs and it’s therefore important to stay aware of potential problems that may arise.