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Rights Group Urges Saudi King to Spare Woman Convicted of Witchcraft

Human Rights Watch is appealing to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to spare the life of a woman condemned to death for witchcraft.

The New York-based rights group said in a statement Thursday that the kingdom's religious police, who arrested and interrogated Fawza Falih, and the judges who tried her, never gave her the opportunity to prove her innocence.

HRW says the judges instead relied on what it said was Falih's coerced confession and on the statements of witnesses who said she had "bewitched" them to convict her in April, 2006.

Witchcraft is considered an offense against Islam in the conservative kingdom, where women have few rights.

Saudi women cannot drive, appear before a judge without a male guardian, or travel abroad without a male guardian's permission.

The HRW statement came one day after the U.N. special investigator for violence against women, Yakin Erturk, completed a 10-day visit to Saudi Arabia.

During her trip, Erturk called on Saudi officials to create a legal framework based on international human rights standards, including a law making it a crime to conduct violence against women.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.