Lessons To Be Learned
From Saudi “Witch” Trial
By James Donahue
Human Rights Watch and
several other groups, many of them connected via the World Wide Web, are collectively appealing to Saudi Arabia’s
King Abdullah this winter in an effort to head off the execution of an illiterate Saudi woman for practicing witchcraft.
Reports from the Human
Rights Watch and websites representing Wiccans, Druids and other pagan organizations from around the world say Fawza Falih
has been sentenced to public beheading after confessing to involvement in supernatural occurrences that included “bewitching”
a man and making him impotent.
The coalition seeking
Falih’s pardon and release also includes Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Native Americans, Buddhists and people of
various other spiritual traditions. Their letter is to be delivered to the Saudi ambassadors to the United Nations and the
Falih recanted her confession
which she said she made under duress and appealed her case. In 2006 an appellate court ruled that she could not be executed
because she had recanted. But a lower court, guided by the strict interpretation of Wahhabi Islam, reinstated the death penalty.
Joe Stork, a Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, noted that because of her illiteracy, Falih did not understand
the document she was forced by authorities to fingerprint. Now she is languishing in prison, awaiting an execution for a crime
she not only did not commit, but for which there is no apparent written law against.
“The fact that
Saudi judges still conduct trials for unprovable crimes like witchcraft underscores their inability to carry out objective
criminal investigations,” Stark said.
He said the judges who
tried Falih in the town of Quraiyat never gave her the opportunity
to prove her innocence to “absurd charges that have no basis in law.” He noted the case underscores failures in
Saudi Arabia’s Islamic legal system
where lawyers are not always present, sentences are often handed down on the whim of judges, and the most frequent victims
Witchcraft is an offense
against Islam in that kingdom, even if it is not defined as a crime by law.
In Falih’s case,
the court ruling was based on her confession, which she later denied, and the statements of witnesses who said she had “bewitched”
The case is raising international
alarm in a contemporary time when most people are more tolerant and understanding of the practice of people who utilize the
natural powers of the earth to make change, or refuse to believe in it altogether.
That a radical fundamental
religious group in Saudi Arabia should
so influence a court to bring down a death sentence on a woman accused of such an innocuous practice should raise red flags
for everyone living in countries where radical belief systems influence government and the courts. This should be especially
troublesome for people in the United States,
where radical Christian fundamentalists have gained a foothold in the door to the White House, and are striving to maintain
If we foolishly elect
another hard-line Christian simple-minded president like George Bush this fall, it is possible that our aging court system
will be overpowered by judges who will not only bring back the ban on abortions, but launch a witch hunt far more ruthless
than anything that happened in Salem 200 years ago.
Those who openly practice
the use of psychic powers, remote viewing, astrology, palmistry, psycho kinesis, healing, tarot reading, and other types of
right-brain functioning could quickly be branded, like Falih, as “practicing witches.” Their fate could either
be prison or execution in the public square.