Saudi Religious Police behead woman for witchcraft

In Saudi Arabia, there is a hotline you can call to rat out people whom you suspect of participating in sorcery or witchcraft. Dabbling in astrology or simply telling fortunes can land you in prison for life — or worse, get you executed. And last Monday, another witch hunt ended in death.

The BBC is reporting that a statement was released through Saudi Interior Ministry that Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was beheaded in the Northern province of al-Jawf for crimes of witchcraft and sorcery.

Cases like these are not all that uncommon in the area. Last September, a Sudanese man was executed for such claims. And Foreign Policy has the story of an Egyptian pharmacist who was accused in 2007 of casting spells to break up a married couple, and who had foul smelling herbs in his home and a candle with an inscription. He was also beheaded by Saudi authorities. A Lebanese man (Ali Sabat) faced the death penalty for hosting a Miss Cleo-like fortune telling show. The Saudi Supreme Court eventually released him, after deciding that he hadn't harmed anyone.

What evidence did the court have against Ms. Nasser? According to the BBC:

The London-based newspaper, al-Hayat, quoted a member of the religious police as saying that she was in her 60s and had tricked people into giving her money, claiming that she could cure their illnesses.

Not that there's too much evidences needed in these witch hunts. The alleged witches are often set up by sting operations after the anti-sorcery hotline receives a tip-off — most of which sound like they were sparked by a domestic disturbance of some kind. FP reports of an illiterate woman who was beaten into signing a confession that she couldn't read. We're not sure what's more deeply disturbing — that this happens, or that it's a somewhat common occurrence.

Amnesty International Interim Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther has released this statement:

"The huge rise in the number of executions in Saudi Arabia is deeply disturbing.

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."

To learn more, check out FP article or head over to Amnesty International.

Top image via Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images