Human Rights Watch appealed yesterday to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to block the beheading of a young women found guilty (yes, found guilty in a court of law in the 21st century) of witchcraft.
Now, this case is heinous in many ways – the persecution by the powerful of a poor illiterate, the use of violence to extract confessions, and the flouting of even the basic legal protections provided by Saudi law. But the most astonishing thing is that the woman has been found guilty of a crime she could not possibly have committed.
The judges … 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.”
The fact that she could even be accused of such a crime is a direct result of the power of the clergy in Saudi Arabia. Religion is not simply a harmless pursuit that gives an opiate to the people. It has a dark flip side, namely that it encourages and validates a faulty world view. One that values belief over evidence, and insists on magic and the supernatural as real and important. When religion becomes powerful, cases like this become inevitable.
“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.
And just in case you thought that this was a one-off aberration, and that they wouldn’t really be crazy enough to go through with it. Well, they’ve done it before, in a similar case just a few months back:
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.