A television psychic who was arrested two years ago for ‘Witchcraft’ as he entered Saudi territory is scheduled to be executed this Friday April 9th unless international support interferes. The television psychic has been formally charged with using sorcery to divine the future, a crime executable by death according to the Saudi government. And as the date draws near, there are some who are stating that the psychic’s death hinges on a complex political battle between the power structures within the Saudi government.
Lebanese protestors are declaring that the execution is unjust, since the father of five Ali Hossein Sabat, is merely being used as a political pawn by the conservative Saudi party to “flex its muscles” and embarrass reformist leaders such as King Abdullah. The conservative party denies such claims, stating it is merely following the letter of the law. According to Saudi law, witchcraft is a crime punishable by death from beheading. The beheading was originally scheduled for yesterday, but a temporary stay of execution has allowed the TV psychic until next week at least. Though Sabat’s lawyer is not hopeful that there will be many more stays of execution or a last minute pardon due to the incredibly high tensions in the region surrounding the execution.
Of course this case is of particular note because of the high profile nature of the man to be executed. Though television psychics are traditionally illegal, neighboring countries can and often do broadcast television shows where psychics take calls from viewers and offer advice. One such show starred Ali Hossein Sabat. Regardless of whether or not there was any veracity or scientific proof of his psychic ability, it was clearly regarded as a serious attempt by the Saudi government, and when he was recognized by authorities he was thrown into jail.
His wife and five children are still waiting and hoping against all odds that somehow the man will be spared. The Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrhim Najjar was quoted as he told Agence France-Presse about his encounter with Saudi authorities regarding the event. He told them to reconsider Sabat’s death, as in Lebanon the crime of sorcery was punishable by merely a few months in jail and was no more than a misdemeanor. Of course this is also assuming the psychic was actually practicing sorcery, which many on both sides say he was not, but was merely giving the impression that he believed he was.
It seems the high profile nature of the man who is to be executed is a factor in this case, though whether it will end up helping him or hurting him is yet to be divined. The public outcry across borders has served to fuel the flame of media and public interest. Is this a case of freedom of speech? Freedom of religion? Or is it a lesson in interfering with policies within the borders of other countries? Of course it’s easy for everyone to make up their own mind in this matter, though Western voices have been largely uniformed in their belief that everyone should be allowed to practice their religion without fear of execution. There is no evidence that Mr. Sabat broke any Saudi law while in that country’s borders.