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Amnesty says Saudi beheading for sorcery "shocking"

in SAUDI ARABIA, 16/12/2011

DUBAI (Reuters) - Rights group Amnesty International has described as "deeply shocking" Saudi Arabia's beheading of a woman convicted on charges of "sorcery and witchcraft", saying it underlined the urgent need to end executions in the kingdom.

Saudi national Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was executed on Monday in the northern province of al-Jawf after being tried and convicted for practising sorcery, the interior ministry said, without giving details of the charges.

"The citizen... practised acts of witchcraft and sorcery," Saudi newspaper al-Watan cited the interior ministry as saying. "The death sentence was carried out on the accused yesterday (Monday) in the Qurayyat district in al-Jawf region".

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, has no written criminal code, which is instead based on an uncodified form of Islamic sharia law as interpreted by the country's judges.

"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," Philip Luther, interim director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme, said in a statement.

Amnesty said the execution was the second of its kind in recent months. A Sudanese national was beheaded in the Saudi city of Medina in September after being convicted on sorcery charges, according to the London-based group.

Amnesty put at 79 the number of executions in Saudi Arabia so far this year, nearly triple the figure in 2010.

(Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich)

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