[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Feb 13 21:09:04 CST 2008
Halt Woman's Execution for 'Witchcraft'
King Abdullah should halt the execution of Fawza Falih and void her
conviction for "witchcraft," Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the
The 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 against absurd charges that have no
basis in law.
"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. "Fawza Falih's case is an example of how the authorities
failed to comply even with existing safeguards in the Saudi justice
The judges relied on Fawza Falih's coerced confession and on the
statements of witnesses who said she had "bewitched" them to convict her
in April 2006. She retracted her confession in court, claiming it was
extracted under duress, and that as an illiterate woman she did not
understand the document she was forced to fingerprint. She also stated in
her appeal that her interrogators beat her during her 35 days in detention
at the hands of the religious police. At one point, she had to be
hospitalized as a result of the beatings.
The judges never investigated whether her confession was voluntary or
reliable or investigated her allegations of torture. They never even made
an inquiry as to whether she could have been responsible for allegedly
supernatural occurrences, such as the sudden impotence of a man she is
said to have "bewitched." They also broke Saudi law in multiple instances,
ignoring legal rules on proper procedures in a trial.
The judges did not sit as a panel of 3, as required for cases involving
the death penalty. They excluded Fawza Falih from most trial sessions and
banned a relative who was acting as her legal representative from
attending any session. Earlier, her interrogators blocked her access to a
lawyer and the judges, and denied her the right to professional legal
representation, thus depriving her of the opportunity to cross-examine the
witnesses against her. She claims that some of the witnesses were unknown
to her and that others had made statements against her only as a result of
Saudi Arabia does not have a written penal code, and "witchcraft" is not a
defined crime. The Law of Criminal Procedure of 2002 grants defendants the
right to be tried in person, to have a lawyer present during interrogation
and trial, and to cross-examine any prosecution witnesses. The law obliges
law enforcement officers to treat detainees humanely.
An appeals court ruled in September 2006 that Fawza Falih could not be
sentenced to death for "witchcraft" as a crime against God because she had
retracted her confession. The lower court judges then sentenced her to
death on a "discretionary" basis, for the benefit of "public interest" and
to "protect the creed, souls and property of this country."
"The judges' behavior in Fawza Falih's trial shows they were interested in
anything but a quest for the truth," Stork said. "They completely
disregarded legal guarantees that would have demonstrated how ill-founded
this whole case was."
On November 2, Saudi Arabia executed Mustafa Ibrahim for sorcery in
Riyadh. Ibrahim, an Egyptian working as a pharmacist in the northern town
of 'Ar'ar, was found guilty of having tried "through sorcery" to separate
a married couple, according to a Ministry of Interior statement.
To read the letter from Human Rights Watch to King Abdullah, please visit:
For more information on Saudi Arabia, please visit:
(source: Human Rights Watch)
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