Abdulaziz Saud

Saudis Said to Abuse Foreigners

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Saudi Arabia executed a Syrian man on false charges of witchcraft only to meet the demands of his employer, a nephew of the king, according to a human rights report released Tuesday. 

The New York-based Human Rights Watch-Middle East cited the execution of Abdul-Karim al-Naqshabandi as one of numerous cases of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia who are arrested, tortured and punished based on false charges. 

There was no immediate reaction from Saudi authorities, who seldom respond to reporters' queries. Human Rights Watch said it wrote several letters to Saudi Arabia's foreign, interior and justice ministers to seek a response, but all went unanswered. 

The report also criticized the kingdom's lack of a written or published penal code, which it said permits authorities ``excessively wide discretion.'' 

Al-Naqshabandi, 40, was executed in December for allegedly practicing witchcraft. He had worked for more than 14 years for Saudi Prince Salman bin Saud bin Abdul Aziz, a nephew of King Fahd. 

The 29-page report, devoted entirely to al-Naqshabandi's case, said he was detained for more than three years before he was beheaded in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. 

It said al-Naqshabandi, an administrative director at Prince Salman's storage company, wrote letters to the trial judge alleging the prince brought false charges against him when he refused to falsely testify against another employer. But his letters were ignored, the report said. 

He also described physical abuse by the prince and police officers while he was detained to extract a false confession, said the report 

He said he was ``tied like an animal ... on the edge of a swimming pool and so what could I do but give in and sign the confession in order to save myself.'' 

Al-Naqshabandi said he was taken to a police station, where an officer put a shoe in his mouth and held him in solitary confinement. 

The report said al-Naqshabandi was ``prosecuted and then executed to satisfy the wishes of his wealthy, well-connected employer.'' Until three days before his execution, al-Naqshabandi did not even know he had been convicted let alone sentenced to death. 

Saudi Arabia's Islamic courts impose the death penalty on murderers, rapists and drug traffickers. Beheadings are carried out in public with a razor-sharp sword. At least 100 people have been executed in the first nine months of 1997 alone and more than 540 since 1990. 

It is not known how many of them were executed for practicing witchcraft. Human rights groups have in the past criticized the executions on grounds that the accused often are not represented by lawyers during their trials and have difficulty appealing verdicts. 

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