A woman in Saudi Arabia has been beheaded, having been convicted of the crimes of practicing 'witchcraft and sorcery,' according to the country's interior ministry.
Saudi state-controlled news identified the Saudi national as Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser who was executed on Monday in the northern province of al-Jawf. However, the ministry provided to additional details on the specifics of her case.
BBC reported that the verdict against Nasser – who was apparently arrested in April 2009 -- was endorsed by Saudi Arabia’s highest court.
A London-based Arabic language newspaper al-Hayat described the condemned woman as being in her 60s. Quoting Abdullah al-Mohsen, a member of Saudi’s religious police, she allegedly tricked people into giving her money in exchange for curing illnesses.
According to the London-based human rights advocate group, Amnesty International, another person, a man from Sudan was executed for the same charges in the city of Medina in September of this year. He reportedly “confessed” after he was tortured by police and underwent a trial in the absence of an attorney.
Other sources identified the Sudanese man as Abdul Hamid bin Hussain bin Moustafa al-Fakki.
“The beheading of a woman convicted of ‘witchcraft and sorcery’ is deeply shocking and highlights the urgent need for a halt in executions in Saudi Arabia,” Amnesty said in a statement
It is unclear exactly how the Saudis define “sorcery,” however it is almost certain that the authorities in the extremely conservative kingdom seek to stamp out any practice deemed to be “un-Islamic.”
“The charges of ‘witchcraft and sorcery’ are not defined as crimes in Saudi Arabia and to use them to subject someone to the cruel and extreme penalty of execution is truly appalling,” said Philip Luther Amnesty International’s interim Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program.
“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.”
In a broader context, the Saudis have executed at least 79 people this year (including five women), versus only 27 for all of 2010.
Amnesty said it believes hundreds of other prisoners are languishing in death row in the kingdom.
“The huge rise in the number of executions in Saudi Arabia is deeply disturbing,” added Philip Luther.
“We regularly call on the Saudi Arabian authorities to impose a moratorium with a view to abolishing the death penalty. Where the death penalty is used, under international law it should only be applied to the most serious crimes.”
Amnesty added that Saudi Arabia – which was one of the few nations to vote against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions – regularly kills prisoners convicted of a broad range of crimes, including murder, rape, blasphemy, apostasy, adultery and drug offenses.