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Human rights group pleads for condemned Saudi 'witch'

'Beaten, denied a fair trial, sentenced to death'

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Campaigning group Human Rights Watch has petitioned King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to halt the execution by beheading of a "witch" who in 2006 was convicted of "witchcraft, recourse to jinn [supernatural beings], and slaughter of animals".

Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali is currently languishing in Quraiyat Prison having "exhausted her appeals" against the sentence. The illiterate defendant was arrested back in 2005, and allegedly beaten and obliged to fingerprint a confession that she couldn't read.

The conviction was based on the testimony of several witnesses who said she'd bewitched them, including one who claimed she'd made him impotent. Fawza Falih retracted her confession in court, but Human Rights Watch notes: "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'."

Of the trial, Human Rights Watch explains: "The judges did not sit as a panel of three, 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 beatings."

Following Fawza Falih's conviction in April 2006, an appeals court ruled in September of that year that she "could not be sentenced to death for 'witchcraft; as a crime against God because she had retracted her confession". However, 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'".

Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, concluded: "The judges' behaviour in Fawza Falih's trial shows they were interested in anything but a quest for the truth. They completely disregarded legal guarantees that would have demonstrated how ill-founded this whole case was." ®

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