Wife appeals for release of Lebanese TV psychic held in Saudi Arabia on witchcraft charges

Friday, June 11, 2010

Wife of Lebanese psychic appeals for his release

BEIRUT — The wife of a Lebanese TV psychic convicted in Saudi Arabia on charges of witchcraft appealed for her husband’s release on Friday, just months after he escaped beheading in the kingdom.

Samira Rahmoon, 46, said Lebanese officials promised her in April that her husband would soon come home, two years after Saudi religious police arrested him during a pilgrimage there.

He was sentenced to death last November, but Saudi officials decided not to behead him after a public outcry this year.

“We are lost,” said Rahmoon, clutching a cracked frame holding a photograph of her husband, 49-year-old Ali Sibat, during a small protest outside the prime minister’s office in Beirut.

Saudi Arabia, which enforces a strict version of Islamic law, arrests dozens of people a year on sorcery charges, and the last known execution was in 2007 with the beheading of an Egyptian pharmacist, according to human rights groups.

The charges are often vague — covering anything from fortunetelling to astrology to making charms and talismans believed to bring love, health or pregnancy. Saudi judges cite Quranic verses forbidding witchcraft, but such practices remain popular as a folk tradition.

In Sibat’s case, the charges seem to center on a call-in talk show he hosted on a Lebanese satellite station where he would tell fortunes and give advice. His supporters point out that the show was aired from Lebanon, not Saudi Arabia.

The Sibat family’s lawyer in Lebanon, May al-Khansa, said the family — including two teenage children and a 5-year-old daughter — is suffering.

“We have been promised by Lebanese officials that he will come back to his family,” al-Khansa said. “This is a miserable situation.”

Prime Minister Saad Hariri was traveling outside the country Friday on a regional tour and was not available to comment. Saudi officials could not be reached for comment.

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