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Saudi woman beheaded for 'witchcraft and sorcery'

By Mohammed Jamjoom and Saad Abedine, CNN
December 14, 2011 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Newspaper says authorities found sorcery books and potions in her home
  • Amina bint Abdel Halim Nassar was convicted of practicing witchcraft
  • Analyst says the charge is used against people who exercise free speech or religion
  • At least 79 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia this year, Amnesty International says

(CNN) -- A woman was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for practicing witchcraft and sorcery, the kingdom's Interior Ministry said, prompting Amnesty International to call for a halt in executions there.

Amina bint Abdel Halim Nassar was executed Monday for having "committed the practice of witchcraft and sorcery," according to an Interior Ministry statement. Nassar was investigated before her arrest and was "convicted of what she was accused of based on the law," the statement said. Her beheading took place in the Qariyat province of the region of Al-Jawf, the ministry said.

In a statement issued late Monday, the human rights group called the execution "deeply shocking" and said it "highlights the urgent need for a halt in executions in Saudi Arabia."

"While we don't know the details of the acts which the authorities accused Amina of committing, the charge of sorcery has often been used in Saudi Arabia to punish people, generally after unfair trials, for exercising their right to freedom of speech or religion," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's interim director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, practices a puritanical version of Islam and is governed by Shariah, or Islamic law. In the deeply conservative kingdom, sorcery, witchcraft and blasphemy are all offenses that can be punishable by death.

The London-based Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat quoted a source in the country's religious police who said authorities searched Nassar's home and found books on sorcery, a number of talismans and glass bottles filled with liquids supposedly used for the purposes of magic. The source told the paper Nassar was selling spells and bottles of the liquid potions for about $400 dollars each.

CNN could not reach Saudi Arabia's religious police or Justice Ministry for comment.

Amnesty says Nassar's execution is "the second of its kind in recent months. In September, a Sudanese national was beheaded in the Saudi Arabian city of Medina after being convicted on 'sorcery' charges."

The human rights group said the number of executions in Saudi Arabia has almost tripled in 2011.

"So far at least 79 people -- including five women -- have been executed there, compared to at least 27 in 2010," the Amnesty statement said.

This is not the first sorcery case in Saudi Arabia to spark outrage from human rights groups. In 2008, Lebanese TV host Ali Hussain Sibat was arrested on charges of sorcery while in Saudi Arabia on a religious pilgrimage. In 2009, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. While Sibat has not been executed, he remains in prison.

Saudi Arabia's judicial system also made headlines this month for the sentence imposed on Australian national Mansor Almaribe, who was convicted of blasphemy while performing the Hajj in the kingdom, and sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in prison. The Australian government is pleading Almaribe's case.

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