DUBAI (AFP) — Human Rights Watch appealed to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Thursday to spare the life of a woman who was condemned to death for "witchcraft".
"King Abdullah should halt the execution of Fawza Falih and void her conviction for 'witchcraft,'" the New York-based HRW, adding it had delivered the appeal in a letter to the Saudi king.
"The religious police who arrested and interrogated Fawza Falih and the judges who tried her in the northern town of Quraiyat never gave her the opportunity to prove her innocence against absurd charges," it said.
"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, the Middle East director at HRW.
It charged that the judges relied on Falih's "coerced confession and on the statements of witnesses who said she had 'bewitched' them to convict her" in April 2006, following her arrest in May 2005.
Falih had "retracted her confession in court, claiming it was extracted under duress, and that as an illiterate woman she did not understand the document she was forced to fingerprint", said HRW.
"At one point, she had to be hospitalised as a result of beatings" at the hands of the religious police, called the "mutaween" in the ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim kingdom, it said.
HRW said: "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'."
HRW said that an appeals court had ruled Falih could not be sentenced to death for "witchcraft" as a crime against God because she had retracted her confession.
She had been condemned to death in April 2006 for "witchcraft, recourse to jinn (supernatural beings), and slaughter" of animals, it said.
But 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'", it said.
HRW did not specify Falih's nationality but referred in its letter to the king to her relatives in Jordan.
In November, Egyptian pharmacist Mustapha Ibrahim, who worked in the northern city of Arar, was beheaded by the sword for "sorcery" under Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic laws for allegedly trying to separate a married couple.
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