Canada to keep pressing Saudis over murder case

Thu Nov 20, 2008 4:21pm EST
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will keep pressing Saudi Arabia not to execute a Canadian man who has been sentenced to death by beheading in the desert kingdom, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said on Thursday.

Ottawa has already asked for clemency for Mohamed Kohail, 23, who was convicted in March of killing a teenager in a schoolyard brawl in Jeddah in 2007. Canadian media reports say Kohail's younger brother Sultan, 17, went on trial this week charged with the same crime.

"I intend to speak to speak to my Saudi counterpart in the near future and to really reiterate our concern. A diplomatic note has been sent to the Saudi ministry of foreign affairs to that effect," Cannon told reporters on a conference call.

He also said Canadian officials met the Saudi charge d'affaires in Ottawa last week to raise the case.

Ottawa traditionally pleads for clemency for all Canadians facing execution abroad but last year the Conservative government said it would stop doing so for prisoners handled by what it called "democratic jurisdictions."

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

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Canada were damaged earlier this decade over William Sampson, a Canadian who spent three years in a Saudi jail on a murder charge.

Released in 2003 after the Saudi king granted him clemency, Sampson said he had been tortured in prison. Saudi Arabia denied this.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren, editing by Richard Valdmanis)