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SAUDI ARABIA: Kingdom steps up hunt for 'witches' and 'black magicians'

Saudi "witch"

When the popular 46-year-old Lebanese psychic Ali Sibat went on-air and made his predictions about the future, the phone lines of the satellite television station Sheherazade used to be flooded with calls.

But what the star psychic probably did not predict was that his claims to supernatural prowess would land him a death sentence.

"He was the most popular psychic on the channel," the Lebanese news agency Naharnet quoted Sibat’s lawyer May Khansa as saying. "The number of callers, including from all over the gulf, spiked in number when he appeared."

But while on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia last year, Sibat was spotted by religious police in the holy city of Medina. Their job it is to battle vice and uphold virtue in the ultraconservative kingdom. So they arrested Sibat in his room at the Medina Hotel on charges of sorcery.

On Nov. 9, Sibat was given a death sentence by a Mecca court for allegedly practicing witchcraft.

Sibat’s fate is common in Saudi Arabia. 

Scores of alleged witch doctors, fortunetellers, and black magicians each year are dragged through the Saudi courts, including Fawza Falih, who’s been on death row since 2006 for witchcraft.

Her accusers include a man who claims the 51-year-old, illiterate Falih is the reason for his impotence.

The witch hunt in the kingdom and a recent rise in witchcraft and sorcery cases are causing concern among human rights groups. News reports say at least two other people have been snatched for witchcraft only in the last month.

New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the Saudi government Tuesday to overturn Sibat’s death sentence and all other witchcraft convictions for crimes the group says are loosely defined and used in an arbitrary way.

“Saudi courts are sanctioning a literal witch hunt by the religious police,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a news release. “The crime of ‘witchcraft’ is being used against all sorts of behavior, with the cruel threat of state-sanctioned executions.”

Judging from previous witchcraft convictions in Saudi Arabia, anyone who publicly displays what authorities describe as suspicious behavior risks becoming a target of the religious police.

Take the case of Muhammad Burhan, who carried a phone booklet with writings in the Tigrinya alphabet from his native Eritrea. Perhaps it was his way of protecting himself against the evil forces out there. Maybe it was his lucky charm for a little extra success in his love life or in business.

But the booklet convinced Saudi authorities that Burhan was a black magician and charged him with "charlatanry," for which he was lashed 300 times and sentenced to 20 months behind bars. He was then deported after having served more than double the prison term he was sentenced to, according to Human Rights Watch.

Most recently, the Saudi daily Okaz carried a report on the arrest of an Asian man nabbed by the religious police in Ta’if on Nov. 19 for “sorcery” and “charlatanry.” 

The man was said to have used supernatural powers to make people fall in love with him and to solve marital disputes.

This year, Saudi Arabia started implementing what it called a "comprehensive judicial reform," but it has yet to write down its criminal laws.

Human Rights Watch called on King Abdullah to order the codification of criminal laws and ensure they comply with international human rights standards.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Someone in a costume awaits the screening of a Harry Potter film in a cathedral in Gloucester, England, this year. Credit: Matt Cardy / Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (26)

I realize that Saudi Arabia is a religiously ultra-conservative country, and in at least that respect is not unlike Iran, but it boggles the mind to think that entertainers such as magicians, psychics, fortune-tellers, and others are at risk of not only their livelihood but of their very lives for practicing their professions. I am a professional magician performing in the Bible Belt, and I occasionally meet those who think my magic is of the devil. Fortunately, the separation of church and state in this country affords us all some protection from the extremism of religious fanatics.

I have many friends from Saudi Arabia, and they're good, modern people. It's not their fault that their country is still hunting witches--they have no voice in their government. They have cell phones, malls, and ipods, but it might as well be the dark ages. As an American, I am deeply disturbed by the witch trials and other moronic forms of oppression in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The people in the K.S.A. deserve human rights. My friends deserve to drive cars regardless of their gender. They deserve the right to think for themselves and speak their minds. People around the world need to demand changes from the government of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabians that I know love their country--but they are politically powerless. They can't effect changes themselves.

Hello, I'd like to order several copies of "The Crucible" in Arabic.

How many? Hmmm... What's the population of Saudi Arabia?

That many? Really?

Okay, how many elected officials do they have?

Its cause they basically have a theocracy there and anything that doesnt fall under their rules undermines their tight fisted governance

Second MEMO to freedomship.

You don't know what fascism is. And your acceptance of conspiracy theories is laughable. Don't even compare the "faults" of this country to the miserable despotic states in the Middle East. I say this as a gay man. Watch this video:

MEMO TO "windhill":

One of Glen Beck's cronies already WAS in power---for 8 years---his name was George W Bush and no matter how much you may have hated him, equating him with Saudi Arabian witch-killers, feminist-stoners and gay-executers only exposes your fantasies as ridiculously far-fetched!!

MEMO to "freedomship":

Your knee-jerk response to the exposing of a cruel, oppressive Saudi regime by disingenuously mentioning the "fascists that took over the U.S." only demonstrates your pseudo-intellectual shallowness:

Last time I checked, American/Western women are allowed to vote and drive cars, homosexuals are not routinely and "legally" executed, adulterers are not stoned and thieves do not have their hands cut off...THAT is TRUE fascism and no amount of babbling about the Rothschilds, Bilderburgs and the "Illuminati" will prevent RATIONAL minds from perceiving the difference between the Western world and a GENUINE fascist regime like Saudi Arabia, which seems intent on reliving the 7th century!!

This is disgusting. I will say this is the most humane fashion. The Covert Military needs to turn these evil tyants and these inbred areas to glass once and for all.

I am fed up with innocent gifted beings called witches being persecuted by ignorant monsters. Psychics can see and define the evil of a dictatorship hence they become an enemy and threat to those doing the crime.

This is a war against humanity.

Hey Freedomship,

A great deal the Arabs brought to Europe was originally from Greece, and since Byzantium was destroyed by Muslim Turks: you lose.

Otherwise, I agree with the rest of what you write.

Hey Charles,
Didn't you know the crusades were run and operated by Europeans and not Arabs. The Inquisition also occurred in Europe. In fact a great deal of the advances in science, mathematics, philosophy and geometry came from the Middle East to Europe.

Iran have no desire to nuke anyone, no country in their right mind would want to do that, except for the USA and Israel it seems. What is going on in Saudi Arabia is horrible, but the Saudi's don't speak for the majority in the Middle East, just like the Bush/Obama/Clinton's don't speak for the majority of Americans. It's all an illusion. It's a Gang and they're world wide. The fascists that took over the US want this kind of society all over the world. Do some research into, Rothschild, Bilderburg, Eugenics and "The New World Order". Things will become clearer for you.

So what should be his defense?

Well, let's see. Mohammed talked to demons and angels. He claimed in the Koran that he heard the spirits of dead (murdered) Jews moaning in the ground. He would go into seizure-type fits and receive "revelations" from the moon-god Al Ilyah ("Allah"). So what's the difference? He actually worried that he had been possessed by Iblis/Shaitan (Satan) when he first had his "revelations," and told his wife as much.

One thing the guy could say: If he were a sorcerer or a psychic, then why didn't he "see all this trouble" coming in advance? Looks like he's just guilty of being a fraud and a liar.

What a worldwide bevy of superstitious, bloodthirsty morons these people are.

We have a secretive group of murderers and mutilators and thieves in the USA. Their viciousness and pervasiveness and conspiracy make the Mafia look like Girl Scouts.

For more fun just wait til Iran gets nukes. I wonder what the crusades or the inquisition would have been like if they had these weapons. We sure do live in interesting times.

Nice of you to attribute the image on this page... otherwise people might think it had something to do with the story.

Should Glen Beck and his cronies ever get in power, substitute "liberal" for "sorcerer" and you will see what is in store...

@djk, fourth post below me.


How could any country civilized or not allow this sort of news to be public. It does make the entire country look like a bunch of flippin morons, after all who else would believe such crap but a moron. And to have the government participating in it, I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair. They should know that if these witches did have any witch power, do they really think putting them in jail would keep them from working there magic, LOL, twice. I'm beginning to think that they are all so uneducated that they will believe anything, hmmmm this may have some possibility's.

The Saudi's should rather spend their police time tracking down and trying the conspirators that sent the 15 Saudi 9/11 hijackers.

And we scurry around sucking up to these backward religious freaks of countries who to this day perpetrate torture, maiming and death for all who refuse to believe in any kind of religion - especially their version of Islam.

It would be nice if the US could hold itself up as a paragon of virtue when it comes to the sickening mixing of religion and politics with prejudice (death penalty, killing clinicians in abortion clinics, Guantanamo etc.). But, at least - thus far - we don't go around accusing people of witchcraft knowing they will be executed for crimes against religion. However, I do think there are enough pure nutters in this country of ours who would be only too happy to revert to the dark days of the Salem witch hunts when ignorance reigned supreme 0r even to an era much closer to ours when ignorance and prejudice also carried the day - the post WWII witch hunts led by McCarthy and his insane cronies.

The sooner we can rid oursleves of "allies" like Saudi, the better off we will all be.

Dch-> You are as low as they come. Death? Really? Good Riddance?? Where's your civility? Any empathy? You are low. You may not agree with psychics but seriously now, killing them? I don't agree with hunting, but at least I'm civil and human enough not to go kill just becuase I don't like it or agree with it. Grow up people

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