Saudi Arabia goes old school

The idea of women driving cars is so 21st century. Why not take a step back and sentence them to death for witchcraft?

Published February 15, 2008 5:08PM (EST)

Oh, Saudi Arabia. That magical land where women can't drive and rape victims are punishable by lashing has decided to go old school in its latest example of misogyny: sentencing a women to execution ... for witchcraft.

Yes, you heard that correctly. Thanks to a coerced confession and testimonies from neighbors who claim she "bewitched" them, a woman named Fawza Falih was sentenced to death in 2006. According to the Associated Press, she has tried to appeal this conviction, saying that she was forced to fingerprint a confession that she couldn't even read (she's illiterate). An appeals court decided that she shouldn't be sentenced to death because she had retracted her confession (not, you know, because accusations of witchcraft are bullshit) -- but oops, then a lower court reissued the death sentence. Why? According to the AP, the court claimed it was for "the benefit of 'public interest' and to 'protect the creed, souls and property of this country.'" Two questions: What the hell does executing a supposed "witch" have to do with protecting the country's creed, souls and property? And second, wouldn't the country's souls benefit more from, I don't know, treating women like human beings?

The New York-based Human Rights Watch is trying to draw attention to this case, releasing a statement saying that Falih never had a chance to prove her innocence in the face of "'absurd charges that have no basis in law.'" I'm happy that the group's trying to help. But it also prompts the bigger question of why anyone should even have to attempt to prove her innocence in the face of charges so absurd. Witchcraft? For real? The accusation would be laughable if its consequence weren't so horrifyingly serious.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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