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Reprieve for 'sorcerer' sentenced to death by Saudi court

Ali Hussain Sibat pictured with two of his five children.
Ali Hussain Sibat pictured with two of his five children.
  • Lawyer said Lebanon's justice minister confirmed Ali Hussain Sibat was still alive
  • Sibat's lawyer has also sent an official letter to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah asking for pardon
  • Sibat used to offer predictions and advice to callers on a Lebanese television network
  • Sibat arrested, tried and sentenced during pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) -- A Lebanese man who had been condemned by a court in Saudi Arabia to die last week for "sorcery" has not been executed, his lawyer said Monday.

May El Khansa told CNN that she got confirmation from Ibrahim Najjar, Lebanon's justice minister, that her client, Ali Hussain Sibat, was still alive.

She added that she had heard Saturday from sources in Saudi Arabia with knowledge of the case that the beheading had not been carried out Friday, as originally planned.

Also Saturday, she said, she sent an official letter to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah asking him to pardon her client.

She said she would send more letters of appeal Tuesday to Lebanese government officials asking them to intervene.

Saudi government officials would not comment to CNN about the case.

Justice Minister Najjar said last week that he had urged the Saudi government not to carry out the execution, and Sibat's wife made an emotional plea for mercy from the kingdom's rulers during a CNN interview Thursday.

"All I ask is for the Saudi king and the Saudi government to show him mercy -- let him come back to his country and his family," Samira Rahmoon said.

Video: Lawyer: 'Sorcerer' sentence delayed
Video: Questions about Saudi justice
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Lebanon

Sibat used to offer predictions and advice to callers on a Lebanese television network. He was arrested by Saudi Arabia's religious police and charged with sorcery while visiting the country in May 2008 while on an Islamic pilgrimage, El Khansa said. Saudi authorities have not disclosed details of the charge for which Sibat has been condemned.

"We can't understand how they could arrest him and charge him and sentence him to death," Rahmoon said. "It doesn't make any sense."

El Khansa said Wednesday that she had been told about the upcoming execution by a Saudi source with knowledge of the case and the proceedings.

Lebanon's government said it had no confirmation that his execution had been set, but Najjar called the sentence "disproportionate."

"I have asked them not to implement any execution in this case," he said. "As far as I know, such an act doesn't deserve such a punishment, unless there is something else -- something that I have not had the possibility to study or to examine myself."

Rahmoon said the family has been unable to contact Sibat "for a long time" and has received no official notification that her husband's execution date has been set.

"We don't understand how he could be executed without us getting any notification first," Rahmoon said. "How could they decide to execute him and not inform us?"

A law against witchcraft remains on the books in Lebanon, but is the equivalent of a misdemeanor, Najjar said.

"I respect the law of Saudi Arabia, which is based on Sharia law," he said. "But at the same time, I'm very concerned about such a sentence."

Sibat was convicted by a court in Medina and sentenced to death in November, El Khansa said. He appealed, and his case was sent back to the trial court for reconsideration. But the judges in Medina upheld their original verdict in March, she said.

The human rights group Amnesty International has called for Sibat's release.

His case drew a small knot of protesters from a Lebanese youth group to the Saudi Embassy in Beirut on Thursday, and Najjar said he told his Saudi counterpart that beheading Sibat "would not be productive" to Lebanese-Saudi relations.

"I have done what I thought was responsible for the justice minister in Lebanon to do, and I said to my colleague in Saudi Arabia that such an act in Lebanon would not be sanctioned by more than two months of imprisonment," Najjar said.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom contributed to this report