TV psychic will not be beheaded for 'witchcraft', lawyer says

A Lebanese television psychic who was condemned to death for witchcraft by a Saudi court while visiting the country will not be beheaded, his lawyer said yesterday. May al-Khansa said that the Saudi ambassador in Beirut informed the Lebanese justice minister, Ibrahim Najjar, that the execution of Ali Sibat would not take place.

"He confirmed to me that there will be no execution," Ms al-Khansa said about her conversation with Mr Najjar. She refused to go into detail but said "matters are going in the right direction". "We have faith in Saudi Arabia's judicial system," she added, noting that Mr Sibat's actions are not a crime in Lebanon.

Mr Sibat is one of scores of people reported arrested every year in the kingdom on charges of practicing sorcery, witchcraft, black magic and fortune-telling, which are considered to be polytheism by the country's ultraconservative judiciary. The father of five was arrested by the Saudi religious police while making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in May 2008 and sentenced to death last November on charges of practicing witchcraft.

Mr Sibat, 49, made predictions on a satellite TV channel from his home in Beirut, where psychics and astrologers operate freely. According to his lawyer, he was the most popular psychic on his channel, especially among callers from the conservative Gulf. After Mecca, Mr Sibat went to Medina to pray at the Mosque of the Prophet. At his hotel, members of the religious police who enforce the kingdom's strict Islamic lifestyle spotted him and grabbed him. Earlier this week, a Saudi judicial official said the country's highest appellate court had upheld the death sentence.