Ali Sabat: What About His Human Rights?

By Ghassan Karam, Special to Ya Libnan

Ali Sabat, a Lebanese citizen, was arrested by the Religious police of Saudi Arabia while he was on a pilgrimage to Mecca during 2008. There is nothing wrong in arresting an individual for committing an offense in a country that he /she is visiting or travelling through. I do not believe that many people will disagree with the proposition that travel does not entitle the traveler to break the laws of the country that one is visiting. But what is clearly, in this case, an abuse of human rights as spelled out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UDHR, and a major infraction of international law is the arrest of Mr. Sabat for having performed a vocation, albeit part time, in Lebanon where fortunetelling is neither a crime, nor a felony or even an infraction of any kind.

Relevant Articles from the UDHR

Article 5.

  • No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 9.

  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 11.

  • (1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.
  • (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

The Saudi religious police used entrapment methods to get Mr. Sabat to agree to read the fortune of a caller but the fact of the matter is that Mr. Sabat, the father of five children in Lebanon, did not use any talisman in Saudi Arabia. He was arrested by the police for having indulged in a practice that they do not approve off but he did not commit the alleged act in Saudi Arabia.  As a result the obvious question to be raised is whether Saudi Arabia has the power and the legal authority to hold a Lebanese citizen for having practiced fortunetelling in Lebanon?  The answer to the above question is a simple and clear one; the Saudi Religious police have no jurisdiction whatsoever to apply its laws and morality to acts committed outside its geographical jurisdictional space. Otherwise they should probably arrest and execute every Saudi citizen who has either gambled, drank alcohol, used drugs or sought sexual favours anywhere in the world. The travail of Mr. Sabat gets even more bizarre. As if it was not enough of an insult to arbitrarily arrest him for having done nothing to warrant his arrest, the Saudi police and legal system made things worse, much worse, by convicting Mr. Sabat of the charges he is innocent off and by having the audacity to trample international law and Mr. Sabats human rights by issuing an order to have him beheaded.

The relatively positive development thus far is that Mr. Sabat has not been beheaded yet although he is still in Saudi prison where he has been for over a year and a half and where he is kept alive but under the constant threat of being beheaded at any time.

Many organizations both within Lebanon and outside it have take up the case of Mr. Sabat by demonstrating and writing about the case. But Isn’t it rather strange that the issue was not covered adequately in the Lebanese press, as if Mr. Sabat does not have any rights and privileges for being a Lebanese citizen especially when  Lebanon had voted for the adoption of the UDHR at the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948.

I wonder whether the ownership of a large number of Lebanese media outlets has anything to do with this lack of coverage. This is another sad example about how seriously disadvantaged is civil society whenever a truly free and independent media does not exist. Only an independent and responsible press would speak truth to power.