Day urges Saudis to overturn Montrealer's beheading sentence

Federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has met with officials in Saudi Arabia and asked them to overturn a Canadian's death sentence.

Federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has met with officials in Saudi Arabia and asked them to overturn a Canadian's death sentence.

Mohamed Kohail, 23, was convicted of murder and sentenced on March 3 to a public beheading following a schoolyard brawl in 2007 that left one dead.

With only 30 days to appeal the ruling, time is running out and his family is pushing the Canadian government to aggressively lobby Saudi Arabia for clemency.

A statement released by Day's department says the minister brought up the case while meeting with the head of Saudi Arabia's general intelligence service, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud.

"I reiterated the Canadian government's position that a review of the decision made by the Saudi judiciary be carried out with a view to ensuring a full and fair hearing," Day said in a statement. "We urge Saudi authorities to overturn the death sentence."

Day is in the Middle East as part of a tour that has included Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. He is also scheduled to visit Egypt.

Speaking to CBC News earlier in the day, friend Mahmoud Al-Ken said that the family had a glimmer of hope about the visit but was skeptical that much could be accomplished.

"It's a step forward but we shouldn't be very optimistic about it. It's a long procedure," Al-Ken said in an interview from Montreal.

Family and friends have repeatedly called for Ottawa to apply more aggressive diplomatic pressure.

Family says trial was flawed

Al-Ken said the family hoped Day would speak with Saudi officials about what his supporters say were serious flaws in Kohail's trial. He said Kohail's court case consisted only of a series of hearings totalling 90 minutes, during which the judge did not hear any defence witnesses.

Kohail's younger brother Sultan, 17, was convicted of similar charges for the brawl and family members fear he too will receive the death penalty at his sentencing in early April.

The fatal brawl allegedly took place after Sultan's schoolmate accused him of insulting a girl at the school, in the city of Jeddah. Sultan then allegedly called his older brother, asking Kohail to defend him.

Then, according to the younger brother's account, Kohail arrived to find a group of men waiting for him, some armed with clubs and knives. In the fight that followed, an 18-year-old student died.

The brothers grew up in Saudi Arabia but have been Canadian citizens since 2005, and lived in Montreal before returning to Saudi Arabia in 2006.

Kohail's supporters worry that Canada's recent policy shift concerning citizens sentenced to death abroad could hamper efforts to resolve the case.

In response to the case of an Albertan on death row in Montana, Day said last fall that the federal government would no longer get involved in cases where Canadians were tried in democratic countries that support the rule of law.

Supporters of Kohail say the new stance could result in accusations by the Saudis that Ottawa is applying a double standard and being hypocritical in their request for clemency in this case.