GCC states claim “witchcraft” and “sorcery” is all around

The Royal Oman Police arrested two African nationals this week and charged them with crimes of practicing “sorcery.” Officers raided the house of the accused after they offered to heal an Omani citizen. Omani officials referred the two defendants to the Public Prosecution. The arrest of foreign nationals for sorcery in Oman is not an isolated incident. Four years ago, 24 Indian nationals were arrested in Oman for allegedly practicing a “sorcery business” after police seized stones and other articles following accusations by locals.

Witchcraft and sorcery are strictly illegal in most Gulf countries. Domestic workers in the Gulf who come from different religious and folk traditions, like in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and sub-Saharan Africa, make “especially vulnerable and easy targets” for accusation. This is particularly the case in Oman, a country that was a historical destination for slave traders and subsequently voodoo practices of East African slaves.

When sorcery cases go to court, domestic workers can be exploited during the trial process due to their lack of fluency in Arabic. If a defendant is found guilty of sorcery, punishments range from a prison sentence to death. In Saudi Arabia the crime can be punished by lashings or the death penalty. Further, Saudi employers have charged domestic workers with claims of sorcery to retaliate against their maids’ complaints of exploitation and abuse. This makes it even more challenging for domestic workers to seek justice. It remains to be seen whether any of the Gulf states will seriously consider eliminating these laws against sorcery and magic, which can particularly hinder both the cultural practices and judicial process for foreign nationals working there.

Margaret Bailey is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB.