According to this report (via Overlawyered), in 2010 a Saudi defense lawyer demanded that a genie be summoned to testify in open court if the state intended to use its testimony against his client. The lawyer was concerned by the court’s willingness to hear instead from a genie expert who said he had talked to the genie and would provide a report.
Not much information is available on this, at least in English, nor is it clear why it’s making the rounds now although it allegedly happened over a year ago. The story is mentioned on at least one English-language Saudi website, but I couldn’t find any more recent information. Still, it seems important to discuss this in case any of you encounter a similar issue.
The case involved a judge who was one of several defendants arrested on bribery and corruption charges. The accused judge told investigators it wasn’t his fault because at the time of his allegedly corrupt rulings he had been possessed by a spirit (“jinn” or “genie” in English) summoned by one of the other defendants. The presiding judge then did the logical thing and called in a genie expert.
The expert, a “well-known cleric” and exorcist “believed to have the powers of speaking to jinn,” later confirmed he had successfully contacted the jinn and would be presenting a full report:
Kathami told Okaz [a Saudi newspaper] that the judge … asked him to include in his report “every word said by the jinn” during the questioning session….
“The judge also asked me to question the jinn about all the offences committed by the accused judge and other defendant who is at large,” Kathami said.
“The jinn told me all I want through the accused judge…. I have written all what the jinn said about the judge’s life and the other defendant…. I will write a full report and present it to the court, proving this judge has been under a spell.”
Emphasis added. The accused judge must have been on pins and needles wondering whether the jinn speaking out of his mouth would back up his story.
Hang on a second, said the lawyer for the other guy (who wisely appears to have fled). This exorcist “has not presented any real evidence that the accused judge has been possessed by jinn,” he said, arguing that a sentence cannot be based on “jinn’s allegations.” At least not if it’s jinn hearsay, I guess, because the lawyer seems to have insisted that the jinn itself be called to testify. That’s weird, because why would a jinn be any more truthful in court? It’s almost like he didn’t think they could actually produce the witness.
Sadly, I haven’t been able to find out what ultimately happened, although either way I assume somebody got beheaded.
It is clear both that genies are routinely blamed for all kinds of things in Saudi Arabia and that there are Saudi skeptics. In this more recent story, for example, two brothers reported that genies burned their house down (twice); the fire department suspected arson, but police agreed it had to be genies since they hadn’t found another cause.
We know, of course, that this sort of thing would never happen in a modern country like the US, or at least we do until we Google it. In 1981, a defense attorney in Connecticut argued that his client was not guilty by reason of demonic possession. According to the theory, the defendant stabbed his landlord to death not because of mental illness but because a devil jumped into him during an exorcism. The family of the defendant’s fiancee had reportedly been convinced that their son was possessed, and had called in the same “demonologists” involved in the “Amityville Horror” case. Supposedly Catholic priests had also been called, but the diocese denied participating in any exorcism. Whatever happened, it didn’t go well, and they ended up with two possessed people (but, on the bright side, also great material for a book).
In that case, the judge refused to allow the “demonic possession” defense, and the killer was convicted of manslaughter. That’s good, although just how far ahead we are of the Saudi court system is still debatable.