Woman charged with posing as witch – The Globe and Mail


The case of a Toronto woman accused of fraud has shed light on a section of the Canadian criminal code that carries a hint of the Dark Ages: posing as a witch.

Vishwantee Persaud allegedly defrauded a Toronto lawyer of tens of thousands of dollars by telling him she was the embodiment of the spirit of his deceased sister, come back to help him in business. Ms. Persaud now faces charges under a rarely used section of the criminal code for pretending to practise witchcraft.

"She said she came from a long line of witches and could do tarot-card readings," says Detective Constable Corey Jones, who investigated the case. "It was through this that she cemented [the lawyer’s] trust," setting the stage for the fraud to follow, which, according to Det. Constable Jones, included claiming fictitious expenses such as law-school tuition and cancer treatments.

Det. Constable Jones says it’s rare to charge someone under Section 365, but the circumstances of this case fit.

"It’s a historical quirk," says Alan Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. Some sections of the Canadian criminal code reflect offences that were more prevalent centuries ago. When the code was enacted in 1892, witchcraft per se was no longer a punishable offence, he says, but lawmakers wanted to ensure witchcraft wasn’t used as a cover for fraud.

Section 365 states that any one who fraudulently pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, or enchantment or who "undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes … is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction."

"It’s not really about occult activity," Prof. Young says. "It’s about defrauding people."

The lawyer met Ms. Persaud, who claimed to be in law school, in early 2009 and started to mentor her. According to Det. Constable Jones, he probably gave Ms. Persaud more than $100,000 over the year.

Det. Constable Jones says the scheme came to a head when Ms. Persaud said they were going to make money hosting and providing security for certain celebrities at the Toronto International Film Festival. "That’s where everything fell apart because of course no Hollywood celebrities showed up," he says.

In fact, he points out, this kind of offence could lead to a simple charge of fraud, which carries longer jail terms and stiffer fines. As it stands, a conviction of pretending to practise witchcraft carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and/or a $2,000 fine.

"There are probably more cases than we know of," Det. Constable Jones says. He says victims are sometimes embarrassed to report such frauds to police.

Ms. Persaud remains in custody and also faces fraud charges relating to this and other cases. She is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 24.

Woman charged with posing as witch – The Globe and Mail

SAUDI ARABIA: Kingdom steps up hunt for ‘witches’ and ‘black magicians’ | Babylon & Beyond | Los Angeles Times


Saudi "witch"

When the popular 46-year-old Lebanese psychic Ali Sibat went on-air and made his predictions about the future, the phone lines of the satellite television station Sheherazade used to be flooded with calls.

But what the star psychic probably did not predict was that his claims to supernatural prowess would land him a death sentence.

"He was the most popular psychic on the channel," the Lebanese news agency Naharnet quoted Sibat’s lawyer May Khansa as saying. "The number of callers, including from all over the gulf, spiked in number when he appeared."

But while on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia last year, Sibat was spotted by religious police in the holy city of Medina. Their job it is to battle vice and uphold virtue in the ultraconservative kingdom. So they arrested Sibat in his room at the Medina Hotel on charges of sorcery.

On Nov. 9, Sibat was given a death sentence by a Mecca court for allegedly practicing witchcraft.

Sibat’s fate is common in Saudi Arabia.

Scores of alleged witch doctors, fortunetellers, and black magicians each year are dragged through the Saudi courts, including Fawza Falih, who’s been on death row since 2006 for witchcraft.

Her accusers include a man who claims the 51-year-old, illiterate Falih is the reason for his impotence.

The witch hunt in the kingdom and a recent rise in witchcraft and sorcery cases are causing concern among human rights groups. News reports say at least two other people have been snatched for witchcraft only in the last month.

New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the Saudi government Tuesday to overturn Sibat’s death sentence and all other witchcraft convictions for crimes the group says are loosely defined and used in an arbitrary way.

“Saudi courts are sanctioning a literal witch hunt by the religious police,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a news release. “The crime of ‘witchcraft’ is being used against all sorts of behavior, with the cruel threat of state-sanctioned executions.”

Judging from previous witchcraft convictions in Saudi Arabia, anyone who publicly displays what authorities describe as suspicious behavior risks becoming a target of the religious police.

Take the case of Muhammad Burhan, who carried a phone booklet with writings in the Tigrinya alphabet from his native Eritrea. Perhaps it was his way of protecting himself against the evil forces out there. Maybe it was his lucky charm for a little extra success in his love life or in business.

But the booklet convinced Saudi authorities that Burhan was a black magician and charged him with "charlatanry," for which he was lashed 300 times and sentenced to 20 months behind bars. He was then deported after having served more than double the prison term he was sentenced to, according to Human Rights Watch.

Most recently, the Saudi daily Okaz carried a report on the arrest of an Asian man nabbed by the religious police in Ta’if on Nov. 19 for “sorcery” and “charlatanry.” 

The man was said to have used supernatural powers to make people fall in love with him and to solve marital disputes.

This year, Saudi Arabia started implementing what it called a "comprehensive judicial reform," but it has yet to write down its criminal laws.

Human Rights Watch called on King Abdullah to order the codification of criminal laws and ensure they comply with international human rights standards.

Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Someone in a costume awaits the screening of a Harry Potter film in a cathedral in Gloucester, England, this year.

SAUDI ARABIA: Kingdom steps up hunt for ‘witches’ and ‘black magicians’ | Babylon & Beyond | Los Angeles Times

Witchcraft death penalty


A human-rights organization says the Saudi authorities are arbitrarily executing people for witchcraft.

Saudi Arabia is being urged by Human Rights Watch to stop meting out the death penalty for alleged witchcraft.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on Riyadh to cease applying capital punishment, to codify its criminal laws and update the criminal procedure law.

“Saudi judges have harshly punished confessed ‘witches’ for what at worst appears to be fraud, but may well be harmless acts,” the rights group said. “Saudi judges should not have the power to end lives of persons at all, let alone those who have not physically harmed others.”

“There is no legal interpretation of these terms, and that’s part of the problem,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch told The Media Line. “Judges arbitrarily describe conduct – such as possession of an Amharic text – as ‘sorcery’ or ‘witchcraft.”

“What’s disturbing is that here in the 21st century, the Saudi government is still regularly prosecuting people for outdated, backwards concepts of ‘witchcraft’,” she said.

Hady Amr, director of the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy said the severe punishments were a derivative of the strict form of religion practiced in the kingdom.

“Islam in general, and particularly the conservative brand of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Gulf, does not accept any other supernatural forces other than the individual and society’s relationship with God,” he told The Media Line. “Anything that contravenes that is seen as blasphemy and against the will of God, so by severely punishing those practicing witchcraft, they are doing God’s will.”

Saudi has convicted several people in the kingdom over the past few years for practicing witchcraft or sorcery.

On November 9, Ali Sabat was sentenced to death by a Medina court for witchcraft.

The sentence was based on advice and predictions that Sibat gave on Lebanese television. The Saudi religious police arrested at least two other people on counts of witchcraft in the past month, according to local media reports.

Sibat was arrested in May 2008 in a hotel in Medina, where he was carrying out a pilgrimage before returning to his native Lebanon.

Local media report that the only evidence against him is the divinations and life advice he gave on a Lebanese satellite television station.

Other cases reveal a zero-tolerance policy towards what the Saudi authorities perceive as witchcraft.

Mustafa Ibrahim, an Egyptian pharmacist working in Saudi Arabia, was executed in November 2007 for sorcery in Riyadh. He was found guilty for trying to separate a married couple “through sorcery,” the Ministry of Interior said.

A court in Jeddah tried a Saudi man this month, after he was arrested for smuggling a book of witchcraft into the kingdom.

In a separate case reported by a local Saudi paper, the religious police in Taif arrested an Asian man for “sorcery” and “charlatanry” and accused him of trying to use supernatural powers to solve marital disputes and induce people to fall in love.

Saudi citizen Fawza Falih was sentenced to death for witchcraft in 2006 after a “discretionary” conviction. HRW protested the sentence in 2008, but the Minister of Justice Abdallah Al A-Sheikh responded that the organization had “preconceived Western notions of Sharia (Islamic Law),” and did not answer questions about the judicial process.

According to HRW, after it approached a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Justice in 2008 to define the crime of witchcraft and its associated evidence, “the official confirmed that no legal definition exists and could not clarify what evidence has probative value in witchcraft trials. Saudi Arabia has no penal code and in almost all cases gives judges the discretion to define acts they deem criminal and to set attendant punishments.”

HRW responded by saying that “Saudi judges should overturn witchcraft convictions and free those arrested or convicted for witchcraft-related crimes. King Abdullah should urgently order the codification of Saudi criminal laws and ensure it comports with international human rights standards.”

Whitson elaborated that HRW “are documenting the cases brought against people on these absurd grounds, seeking media attention to the disturbing practice, and urging the Saudi government to rein in its judges and pass a new penal code that defines once and for all what constitutes a crime in Saudi Arabia,”

Wajeha Al-Huwaidar, a Saudi rights activist and a member of HRW’s advisory committee said it seems as though the Saudis are living in the Dark Ages.
“Witchcraft was considered a big crime [in the past] and many people got burned alive or tortured to death for practicing witchcraft,” she told The Media Line.
“In the Saudi case, witchcraft has deep roots in the Islamic religion. Most Saudis believe that those who have this "magic" power are able to destroy families and cause diseases to others and even death,” she elaborated. “These beliefs made people feel witchcraft was a horrible crime and whoever committed it should be locked out or killed. Witchcraft is a common practice among ignorant and poor people all over the Islamic world but only Saudi Arabia punishes them in a very brutal way.”

The Media Line

Witchcraft on Indias school curriculum – Telegraph

Primary school children in India will learn about witchcraft in the classroom as part of an effort to dispell superstitions and stop deadly witch-hunts.

Last Updated: 6:55AM GMT 24 Nov 2008

Many tribal communities in the country believe in witches and their ability to cause harm to people, animals and the harvest.

About 750 people, mostly old women, are estimated to have been killed in witch-hunts in rural India since 2003.

In one of the worst cases, a family of four stoned and buried alive for allegedly cursing a relative of the village chief, the Times reports.

Advocates for a change to the syllabus say beliefs must be altered early if India’s witch-hunts are to be stamped out.

But some academics argue that witch-hunts are linked to economic conditions and claim that pensions, not education, are the best way to eradicate belief in black magic.

Studies suggest that more “witches” are identified during hard times, the paper said.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, an estimated one million women were killed in Europe for dabbling in the black arts.

Last month, a petition calling for a posthumous pardon for women and men who were executed as British witches was presented to the British government.

via Witchcraft on Indias school curriculum – Telegraph

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