SAUDI ARABIA. HALT WOMAN'S EXECUTION FOR 'WITCHCRAFT'
February 14, 2008: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia should halt the execution of Fawza Falih and void her conviction for "witchcraft," Human Rights Watch said.
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 that have no basis in law.
The judges relied on Fawza Falih's coerced confession and on the statements of witnesses who said she had "bewitched" them to convict her in April, 2006. She 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. She also stated in her appeal that her interrogators beat her during her 35 days in detention at the hands of the religious police. At one point, she had to be hospitalized as a result of the beatings. 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. (Sources: Reuters, 14/02/2008)