Sunday, 5 April 2009

Ottawa 'disappointed' with beheading sentence

Tiffany Crawford, Canwest News Service

OTTAWA -- The Harper government said Thursday it was ‘deeply disappointed' by news a Saudi court had upheld the death by beheading sentence of a Canadian man who was convicted in the 2007 death of another man.

"We are deeply disappointed at the reports that a Saudi court has upheld its decision to sentence Mohamed Kohail to death," said Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon. "Canada continues to express its concern for a fair and transparent review of the wording and the sentence."

The decision by the Jidda General Court sends the matter back to the Saudi Supreme Judicial Council -- essentially an appeal court -- for a final ruling.

Mr. Obhrai told the House of Commons that Cannon has requested that Canadian officials review the final court decision when it is issued.

Aubrey Harris, who works on a campaign to abolish the death penalty for Amnesty International, said there could still be a positive outcome for Kohail in the Supreme Judicial Council.

"The lower court is refusing to change its decision," he said, "but what it means is (Kohail's) case must now go back before the . . . council, which had originally felt that his case should be overturned. So it is a matter of waiting and seeing."

Mr. Harris said it's unclear if the delay will allow for more evidence to be presented in court.

There was no word on developments regarding Kohail's younger brother, Sultan, who was charged in the same incident.

Sultan was originally tried in Saudi youth court and sentenced to 200 lashes -- but now faces trial in adult court, where he could also face a death sentence.

Liberal MP Dan McTeague, the party's consular affairs critic, argues there's evidence to suggest Kohail's case was one of self-defence and he does not deserve a death sentence, which would be carried out by sword.

Kohail, a 23-year-old Montrealer, was living temporarily in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, when he got involved in a schoolyard brawl in January 2007. The fight resulted in the death of an 18-year-old man.

The Kohail family maintains evidence -- not permitted to be entered at the separate trials of their two sons -- suggests the two were trying to escape from a mob and did not cause the injuries that led to the Syrian man's death.

"It hasn't been a fair run," Mr. Harris said. "The court system is undergoing modifications and a number of them haven't taken effect yet, but [the council] may have the power to overturn lower court rulings."

Mr. Harris said the court's final decision will likely be made "in a few weeks," and he hoped the Canadian government would push for Kohail's release.

"The Canadian government must intervene," he said.

Mr. McTeague also has concerns about how the court decision was made without any public written documentation.

"This, in itself, is significant because it was done, in my view, in a very perfunctory way . . . and said, ‘ya, too bad, we're sticking with the decision.'"

The Kohails settled in Montreal after emigrating to Canada in 2000 and became Canadian citizens in 2005.

With files from the Montreal Gazette

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