Health of Canadian in Saudi jail deteriorating: friends
Montreal man, Mohamed Kohail, Saudi Arabia, jail
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, October 23, 2011 7:19AM EDT
MONTREAL - A Montreal man who has spent nearly five years inside a Saudi Arabian prison is said to be deteriorating and pleading for help from Canadian authorities to secure his freedom.
Mohamed Kohail has been imprisoned on a murder charge since 2007 and was sentenced to beheading by sword before Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court overturned the death sentence in 2010.
Since then he has been quietly waiting for a retrial and his friends and relatives, who had been vocal about seeking his freedom, have kept mum to avoid causing a stir.
But now they say Kohail has developed health problems during his incarceration. Sources close to the 26-year-old told The Canadian Press he had multiple operations this past summer for chronic tuberculosis -- with the infection spreading dangerously close to his spinal cord.
He is taking a harsh cocktail of medication, has narrowly escaped paralysis and has received inadequate health care in jail, his supporters say.
Kohail spends most of his days confined in a cell he shares with 100 other inmates.
His supporters are calling for the Canadian government to take a renewed interest in his case and help him.
Rana Saheb, a Montreal-based friend of the Kohail family, is asking for direct intervention by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
Saheb and others are also seeking deeper involvement from Canadian diplomats in Riyadh who, they claim, haven't visited Kohail in months.
They want Baird to meet with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal -- a meeting they'd like to see happen before the two-week break for hajj, the Islamic holiday marked by millions making a pilgrimage to Mecca in early November.
"It has been almost two years since (the court) said he was going to go for a retrial," Saheb said in an interview.
"We have a Canadian citizen in jail in Saudi Arabia, he's in a critical situation health-wise, his retrial is still pending two years later.
"The Canadian government needs to go and start helping him."
The Department of Foreign Affairs did not respond to several requests for comment over a recent three-day period.
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 in 2006.
The brothers' troubles with the law began in 2007, when an after-school brawl left a 19-year-old man named Munzer Al-Hiraki dead.
The high-school incident allegedly started after Sultan Kohail insulted Al-Hiraki's cousin.
Mohamed Kohail and a Jordanian friend were both sentenced to death in March 2008 following a trial that lasted the equivalent of 90 minutes, over several sessions.
Sultan Kohail was sentenced to 200 lashes and a year in jail. While he has served the jail time, the lashes have not been carried out.
The brothers have repeatedly said they were acting in self-defence and were not involved in inflicting the fatal wounds during the fight, which involved dozens of teenagers.
Mohamed Kohail has said he was tortured into confessing.
His case bounced back and forth between Saudi upper and lower courts. The latest stalemate ended in January 2010 when the Supreme Court ruled the death sentence should be rescinded.
It ordered a new trial.
And that's where things have stood, for nearly two years. Even in the next phase, the death penalty remains a possibility.
"This is a new trial so the death penalty is still on the table," said Aubrey Harris, Amnesty International Canada's co-ordinator for the campaign to abolish the death penalty.
"Amnesty is concerned about Mohamed Kohail's health and would advocate for a high level of government involvement to advocate on his behalf."
A new trial will also have an impact on Sultan Kohail's case. He too has been ordered tried again and his case hinges on what happens during his brother's retrial.
Saheb says Mohamed Kohail welcomes a retrial and, he says, the family has amassed witnesses to present a new case that they say proves Kohail's innocence.
She says the Supreme Court overturning the previous verdict is an equally important sign of Kohail's innocence.
She says Kohail is desperate to get out of jail.
"Mohamed is in a very critical situation, health-wise," Saheb said.
"He had three operations. If he stays in jail any longer, it's not going to be a happy story at the end."