The Atlantic on the Saudi government squad which arrests hundreds of people (many of them low-paid foreign workers) on charges of witchcraft, punishable by long prison sentences or even death:
The campaign of persecution has shown no signs of fizzling. In May, two Asian maids were sentenced to 1,000 lashings and 10 years in prison after their bosses claimed that they had suffered from their magic. Just a few weeks ago, Saudi newspapers began running the image of an Indonesian maid being pursued on accusations that she produced a spell that made her male boss’s family subject to fainting and epileptic fits.
The Saudi government’s obsession with the criminalization of the dark arts reached a new level in 2009, when it created and formalized a special “Anti-Witchcraft Unit” to educate the public about the evils of sorcery, investigate alleged witches, neutralize their cursed paraphernalia, and disarm their spells. Saudi citizens are also urged to use a hotline on the CPVPV website to report any magical misdeeds to local officials.
By 2011, the unit had created a total of nine witchcraft-fighting bureaus in cities across the country, according to Arab News, and had “achieved remarkable success” in processing at least 586 cases of magical crime, the majority of which were foreign domestic workers from Africa and Indonesia.
The courts are controlled by judges — commonly religious clerics — who have unlimited latitude to interpret and define the content of witchcraft crime. They can also mete out capital punishments as they see fit. Evidence in these cases is limited to witness testimony and the presentation of the “magical” items discovered in the possession of the accused.
In the 2006 case of Fawza Falih, who was sentenced to death on charges of “‘witchcraft, recourse to jinn, and slaughter’ of animals,” she was provided no opportunity to question the testimonies of her witnesses, was barred from the room when “evidence” was presented, and her legal representation was not permitted to enter court.
“If there’s an employer dispute — say the migrant domestic worker claims she wasn’t paid her wages or her conditions are unlivable — a lot of times what happens unfortunately is the defendant makes counterclaims against the domestic worker,” Coogle said. “And a lot of times they’ll make counterclaims of sorcery, witchcraft, and that sort of thing.”
Domestic workers, many of whom who are not fluent in Arabic, face significant challenges in defending themselves against these charges, according to Coogle. Sometimes, he says, “they don’t even know what’s happening.”
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