By Bassem Mroue (Associated Press)
BEIRUT — The lawyer of a Lebanese TV psychic who was convicted in Saudi Arabia for witchcraft said Thursday her client could be beheaded this week and urged Lebanese and Saudi leaders to help spare his life.
Attorney May al-Khansa said she learned from a judicial source that Ali Sibat is to be beheaded on Friday. She added that she does not have any official confirmation of this. Saudi judicial officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
A Lebanese official said Beirut has received no word from its embassy in Riyadh about Sibat's possible execution. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The Saudi justice system, which is based on Islamic law, does not clearly define the charge of witchcraft.
Sibat is one of scores of people reported arrested every year in the kingdom for practicing sorcery, witchcraft, black magic and fortunetelling. These practices are considered polytheism by the government in Saudi Arabia, a deeply religious Muslim country.
Later Thursday, a dozen people demonstrated near the Saudi embassy in Beirut's western neighborhood of Qureitim. Four of the men wore masks to look like executioners and carried a wooden gallows with a cloth bag hanging from it.
One of the men carried a small banner that read in Arabic: "Don't kill."
Al-Khansa said she has called upon Saudi King Abdullah to pardon Sibat, a 49-year-old father of five. She also says she is in contact with Lebanese officials about the case.
She added that Sibat did not make predictions in Saudi Arabia and was neither a Saudi citizen nor a resident in Saudi and therefore should have been deported rather than tried there.
Sibat made predictions on an Arab satellite TV channel from his home in Beirut. He was arrested by the Saudi religious police during his pilgrimage to the holy city of Medina in May 2008 and sentenced to death last November.
"Ali is not a criminal. He did not commit a crime or do anything disgraceful, " al-Khansa said. "The world should help in rescuing a man who has five children, a wife and a seriously ill mother."
She added that Sibat's mother's health has been deteriorating since her son was sentenced to death.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said last year that Sibat's death sentence should be overturned. It also called on the Saudi government to halt "its increasing use of charges of 'witchcraft,' crimes that are vaguely defined and arbitrarily used."
Last year, the rights group presented a series of cases in the kingdom, including that of Saudi woman Fawza Falih, who was sentenced to death by beheading in 2006 for the alleged crimes of "witchcraft, recourse to jinn (supernatural beings)" and animal sacrifice.
On November 2, 2007, Mustafa Ibrahim, an Egyptian pharmacist, was executed for sorcery in the Saudi capital of Riyadh after he was found guilty of having tried "through sorcery" to separate a married couple, Human Rights Watch said.