Ali Sabat was supposed to die last week.
Sabat, the Lebanese host of a popular TV show, for years gave his viewers psychic advice and predictions. This may cost him his life.
Many people around the world claim to foretell the future, talk to the dead, and do other amazing (if scientifically unproven) feats. So what's the problem?
Sabat is a Shiite Muslim, and many Muslims—like many fundamentalist Christians—consider fortunetelling occult and therefore evil. Making a psychic prediction is seen as invoking diabolical forces, perhaps even entering into a pact with Satan. Fortunetelling, prophecy, and other forms of divination have been condemned by Saudi Arabia’s religious leaders.
In 2008, while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, Ali Sabat was arrested by that country's religious police, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. His crime: sorcery. Yes, people can still be accused of practicing witchcraft and condemned to death for it nowadays.
According to the human rights group Amnesty International, a court last month upheld Sabat's death sentence, with the judges deciding "he deserved to be sentenced to death because he had practiced 'sorcery' publicly for several years before millions of viewers."
He was scheduled to be publicly executed last Friday, but his beheading was deferred.
Sabat is not out of trouble; he did not receive a reprieve, merely a temporary stay of execution.
In an ironic twist, Sabat might save his life if he confessed that his psychic predictions and powers were all a hoax (or an act merely for entertainment) and therefore not a true exhibition of occult powers. Hopefully Sabat's death sentence will be repealed, but it does seem odd that his psychic powers didn’t predict this travesty in the first place.
Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. His books, films, and other projects can be found on his website. His Bad Science column appears regularly on LiveScience.