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Why You Should Know About Ali Sibat

At the time of this writing, Ali Hussain Sibat is still alive.

It is unknown for how long he will be however, for he is set to be executed in Saudi Arabia at any moment for the undefined crime of practicing “sorcery” and “witchcraft.”

As Robert Fisk aptly penned, “Some stories from the Middle East make you want to weep. But this one is truly heart-breaking.”

The details of his case are rather simple: Ali Sibat (alternative spelling, Sbatt) is a poor, Lebanese Shia Muslim truck driver who went to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in May 2008 to perform the minor pilgrimage, or umra. While in Medina, the Saudi Religious Police or mutawa’een, broke into his hotel room and arrested him for practicing “sorcery” (how they managed to track him down is beyond me). It seems Mr. Sibat once worked for a Lebanese satellite television station where he gave counsel and encouragement to troubled callers by “predicting” good things would happen to them.

After spending a year-and-half in jail, he was sentenced to death in a secret trial on Nov. 9. Yes, a Lebanese citizen, who once gave callers advice on a Lebanese television station in Lebanon, was given a death sentence while visiting Saudi Arabia. As Fisk again writes, “the story is almost too awful to relate because it should be untrue.”

His execution is set for today, December 10.

The fact he is a Shia Muslim certainly does not help his case in a country that is intolerant of them. The family wisely decided to call upon Lebanon’s Sunni leadership, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri – who holds Saudi citizenship – and the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Qabalan (who said Sibat committed no crime) to intervene.

Mr. Sibat, of course, was likely tortured during his long imprisonment. No lawyers were present during his sentencing, and in a country with no written penal code, his arbitrary arrest, incarceration and trial were dependent solely on the whims of the Religious Police and the presiding judge.

Amnesty International has urged Saudi King Abdullah to overturn the sentence and unconditionally release Sibat and another man (name unknown) convicted on similar charges.

Now that he is officially prime minister, Saad Hariri should spare not effort to secure the release of a fellow citizen set to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia.

God be with you Ali Hussain Sibat.

RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri AT yahoo DOT com.