Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri was convicted of “witchcraft, sorcery and owning written talismans”. He was also said to have admitted carrying out adultery with two women, according to the official SPA news agency.
Last year, at least two people were beheaded for sorcery in Saudi Arabia: a Saudi woman, executed for committing sorcery and witchcraft in December; and a Sudanese man executed in September.
At the time, human rights groups around the world condemned the executions, and Amnesty International described the Saudi woman’s beheading as “deeply shocking and highlights the urgent need for a halt in executions in Saudi Arabia.”
And yet now there is another atrocious killing.
Mr Asiri was beheaded after his sentence was upheld by the country’s highest courts, the Saudi news agency website said.
The execution, in Najran province, comes as part of a wider crackdown on crimes of ‘sorcery’ across the country. In March this year, the country’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice announced that it was setting up a unit to “fight sorcerers and charlatans in all parts of the Kingdom”.
“The unit has been given orders to immediately arrest sorcerers and charlatans and refer them to the specialized authorities to apply God’s punishment on them and end their harmful deeds against Muslims,” according to a statement at the time from the Commission’s president, Sheikh Abdul Latif Al Shaikh.
And just how is beheading a human applying “God’s punishment”?
According to The Epoch Times, part of the problem is that the country does not have a clear legal code. Cases are heard according to Islamic religious laws, and judges often have wide ranging powers of interpretation.
“The judges think they are the interpreters of God’s word, and this is the whole problem in Saudi Arabia,” said Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb, director of the Saudi-based Human Rights First Society, in comments to the New York Times in 2010. “We have enormous numbers of examples where the same case was judged radically differently between two judges.”
I have no idea how one proves the charge of witchcraft in Saudi Arabia, but I suspect it might be similar to 17th century England, where reports of a woman turning into a bird and flying away were sufficient evidence.
In any case, however “radically different” two judges may be, the sentence of beheading should never be an option.
Photo Credit: Gary Denness