Fawza Falih

How Do You Prove Someone’s a Witch in Saudi Arabia?

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Call the religious police’s Anti-Witchcraft Unit and get them to set up a sting operation.

BY URI FRIEDMAN | DECEMBER 13, 2011

In yet another reminder that the phrase “witch hunts” isn’t only used figuratively these days, the Saudi Interior Ministry announced on Monday that it had beheaded a woman named

Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser for practicing “witchcraft and sorcery.” The London-based al-Hayat newspaper, citing the chief of the religious police who arrested the woman after a report from a female investigator, claimsNasser was tricking people into paying $800 per session to have their illnesses cured.

So, how did Saudi authorities prove Nasser was a witch? The government hasn’t gone into detail, but a look at the kingdom’s past witchcraft cases suggests the bar for proving someone guilty isn’t very high. Witch hunting is fairly institutionalized in Saudi Arabia, with the country’s religious police running an Anti-Witchcraft Unit and a sorcery hotline to combat practices like astrology and fortune telling that are considered un-Islamic.

But institutionalized is not the same thing as codified.

A top official in the kingdom’s Ministry of Justice told Human Rights Watchin 2008 that there is no legal definition for witchcraft (Saudi Arabia doesn’t have a penal code) or specific body of evidence that has probative value in witchcraft trials.

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