Canadian still faces public beheading in Saudi Arabia

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A copy of a letter written to the Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper by a Canadian man facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia has been obtained by The Canadian Press. In it, Mohamed Kohail pleads with the prime minister to utilise "every way possible to get me out of this situation."

Kohail, 23, of Montreal, was sentenced on March 3, 2008 to be publicly executed following a confession for murder at a Saudi school. Kohail claims the confession was obtained under duress. The Saudi Supreme Court advised the lower court on April 9, 2009 to renounce the death penalty; however, the request was refused.

Munzer Al-Hiraki, 19, was killed in an after-school fight in January 2007, allegedly after Kohail's brother, Sultan, insulted a girl. The brothers claim that the fight involved a large group of boys, and felt they were acting in self defense.

Sultan, 16 at the time, said that Mohamed came to his rescue with a friend, only to be greeted by a group armed with knives and clubs. Witnesses for the brothers say that Al-Hiraki had arrived at the school with carloads of friends to seek vengeance on Sultan.

"I was tortured to sign a confession. I was misinformed that I would be allowed out of custody the moment I signed it," said Kohail.

In the letter, delivered by Canadian MP Deepak Obhrai last December, Kohail continues, "Mr. Harper, I have been in jail for two years now. I am imprisoned with hundreds [of] high-profile criminals in Saudi Arabia for a crime that I did not commit. I've lost my hair, two years of my life and see death coming to me closer every day."

Kohail received 80 days to appeal the sentence. "There were nine hearings in total and only one time was the lawyer for Mohamed and his friend allowed in the courtroom; not even Mohamed's father, Ali (was allowed in)," said a relative.

Harper is seeking clemency for the Kohail brothers. "It has to be worked within the confines of the Saudi law and it's important to recognize that and work with the Saudi officials to come to a resolution," said Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon. According to the letter, the Canadian government began seeking clemency March of 2008.

If the court continues to uphold the death penalty, the only other option is the payment of dia, or blood money, in exchange for forgiveness — but Al-Hiraki's family seeking CA$5 million.

Sultan Kohail is a juvenile who is out on bail awaiting to be tried in adult court on murder charges. The Convention on the Rights of the Child forbids execution of youths under the age of 18, which Saudi Arabia officials declare they comply with. However, the Convention also prohibits execution for crimes committed as juveniles no matter when the court sentences them.

Born in Palestine, the Kohail brothers moved to Canada in 2000, and became Canadian citizens in 2005. They moved to Jiddah in 2006.

In October 2007, Canadian Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said, "We will not actively pursue bringing back to Canada murderers who have been tried in a democratic country that supports the rule of law." Previously Canada consistently sought clemency from all foreign governments after the death penalty was abolished in Canada in 1976.

Since the beginning of 2009, 36 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia. 102 were executed in 2008 and 158 were executed in 2007.


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