Canada under fire over Saudi death sentence case

Tue Mar 4, 2008 8:47pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian officials said on Tuesday the government would plead for clemency for a Canadian man sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia but a senior opposition legislator said the announcement could put the prisoner in even more danger.

Mohamed Kohail, 23, of Montreal was convicted on Sunday of killing a teenager in a schoolyard brawl in Jeddah in 2007. He has 80 days to appeal.

Ottawa traditionally pleaded for clemency for all Canadians sentenced to death abroad but last year the minority Conservative government said it would not do so for prisoners handled by what it called "democratic jurisdictions."

Critics said this meant that when Canada did try to intervene in a particular case, it would be sending the message that Ottawa did not trust the judicial system in that country.

"We will be appealing for clemency," said a spokesman for Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier.

The official opposition Liberal Party said it was worried that Riyadh would take the message the wrong way.

"When we ask for clemency, it seems the new rule of thumb means that we have fundamental disagreements with that country," said Liberal Party legislator Dan McTeague, a former junior minister responsible for Canadians jailed abroad.

"I hope this won't be taken as a slight (by the Saudis) but I can't see how it won't be. ... I fear we're going to have the door slammed in our face," he told Reuters.   Continued...