Fawzi Falih faces imminent beheading for sorcery

Fawzi Falih faces imminent beheading for sorcery unless the King issues a rare pardon. But the influential rights group has stopped short of asking for intervention from foreign governments in the case, which has captured international attention and highlighted discriminatory aspects of the Saudi justice system, where courts often fail to follow due process.
Such was the case in the trial of Ms Falih, Human Rights Watch argues.
Religious police arrested the illiterate woman in 2005, allegedly beating her before forcing her to fingerprint a false confession. Her accusers included a man who claimed that she rendered him impotent with her sorcery.
In April 2006 the Saudi courts ruled the woman should be put to death to “protect the creed, souls and property of this country”.
In a letter sent to the King this week, Human Rights Watch wrote: “King Abdullah should halt the execution of Fawza Falih and void her conviction for ‘witchcraft’.
“The religious police who arrested and interrogated Fawza Falih and the judges who tried her in the northern town of Quariyat never gave her the opportunity to prove her innocence against the absurd charges,” it said.
Christophe Wilcke, the Human Rights Watch researcher in charge of the case, said: “I do feel that we have hope that she will be saved, by demonstrating how many things went wrong in her trial, and that we can persuade the King.”
Mr Wilcke said that Ms Falih was tried for the vague crime of witchraft and was convicted on the basis of faulty evidence. Apparently, Ms Falih’s lawyers were not even allowed in the courtroom. The trial, Human Rights Watch argues, failed to meet the Kingdom’s own standards of justice.
However, under Saudi law, Ms Falih has run out of avenues to appeal her sentence. Her life can only be saved by a rare intervention from King Abdullah. The last time he issued such a pardon was in December, for an 18-year-old girl from Qatif who was sentenced to lashes after she was gang-raped. Her sentence was reversed in response to a chorus of international protest, which included rare criticism from Washington, Saudi Arabia’s long-time ally. This time, Human Rights Watch has stopped short of asking for similar intervention: “This is a matter for Saudi to deal with,” Mr Wilcke said.

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