Updated: Tue, 28 May 2013 14:33:43 GMT | By Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press, thecanadianpress.com

Canadian who faced execution freed in Saudi Arabia



Canadian who faced execution freed in Saudi Arabia

Mohamed Kohail is shown in an undated family handout photo. Kohail, a Canadian who was once condemned to death by beheading, has been quietly released from a Saudi prison, after almost six years behind bars. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Courtesy of the Kohail Family

A Canadian who was once condemned to death by beheading has been quietly released from a Saudi prison after almost six years behind bars.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press indicate that Mohamed Kohail was freed last December.

The documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs, obtained through the Access to Information Act, are significantly redacted and they do not indicate the circumstances under which Kohail was released.

"It would have been up to the family to make some kind of an announcement," said Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Chrystiane Roy.

"My understanding was he was released and that's (all) I have."

Kohail's story drew international attention in 2007. The ex-Montrealer was sentenced to death for his alleged role in a fatal schoolyard melee that left a 19-year-old man dead.

He and a Jordanian friend were both ordered beheaded, by sword, for their alleged involvement in the killing of a 19-year-old in a brawl that started with an insult to a girl by Kohail's brother, Sultan.

The brothers have repeatedly said they were acting in self-defence and were not involved in inflicting the fatal wounds during the fight, which had involved dozens of teenagers.

The Kohails' case has bounced around the Saudi legal system.

The country's highest court overturned the death penalty three years ago for Mohamed Kohail, now 27. Sultan Kohail, now 22, had been sentenced to 200 lashes and a year in prison for being an accessory to the crime, before his case was appealed.

Both brothers remain in Saudi Arabia. And both are currently in legal limbo, awaiting news about any developments in their legal status.

Mohamed Kohail's case bounced back and forth between Saudi upper and lower courts.

The latest stalemate ended in January 2010 when the Supreme Council of Saudi Arabia ruled the death sentence should be rescinded.

That court ordered a fresh trial. Supporters have said that Sultan Kohail's own case hinged heavily on his brother's retrial.

The redacted federal documents include a flurry of emails in November 2012 between Foreign Affairs officials discussing media strategy while Kohail was on the verge of being released.

But the planning proved unnecessary.

In recent months, the family has kept quiet to allow the case to play itself out in the Saudi justice system. A family spokesman declined to comment on the latest developments.

Foreign Affairs has previously said that Saudi authorities are aware that Canada has an ongoing interest in the case. Conservative ministers who have travelled to the Middle East have raised the issue of clemency with Saudi government officials.

The Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Roy, said she wasn't aware of any further details surrounding the case and much of it would fall under privacy rules.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has previously stated that the Canadian government would seek clemency for Kohail.

But a Foreign Affairs memo from 2011, also released under ATI laws, notes that under Saudi law Kohail's case qualifies as a "private rights case." In such cases, only the victim's family can grant clemency.

The document says the Saudi government has "engaged in efforts to encourage reconciliation between the families."

The initial trial lasted a total of 90 minutes and lawyers were not permitted to attend until the final few hearings. The trial consisted of nine hearings, lasting 10 minutes each.

Kohail's family members have moved to find new witnesses and evidence to help build a case.

Organizations like Amnesty International have also taken up the brothers' cause. Numerous petitions have been distributed online, calling for Kohail to be granted a fair trial.

Born in Palestine, Kohail and his younger brother Sultan moved to Canada with their family in 2000 and became Canadian citizens in 2005.

They moved to Jidda, Saudi Arabia, in 2006 for what was to have been a brief stay. The family has said it always intended to return to Canada.

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