Saudi court upholds Montreal man's death sentence

A lower court in Saudi Arabia has upheld the death sentence of a Montreal man convicted of murder.

A lower court in Saudi Arabia has upheld the death sentence of a Montreal man convicted of murder.

Mohamed Kohail, 23, was convicted of murder and sentenced March 3, 2008, to a public beheading following a schoolyard brawl in 2007 in the city of Jeddah that left one person dead.

In February, the Supreme Judicial Council, Saudi Arabia's highest court, asked the lower court that had made the ruling to review its decision.

But after considering the council's recommendations, the lower court rejected that request, according to local media reports on Thursday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said in a statement Thursday afternoon it will ask for a review of the decision after it is formally submitted in writing.

"We are deeply disappointed at reports that a Saudi court has upheld its decision to sentence Mohammed Kohail to death," said the statement.

"Canada continues to express its concern for a fair and transparent review of the verdict and sentence."

Liberal MP Dan McTeague, who has been closely involved in the case from the beginning, told CBC News the Kohail family is falling victim to an internecine political struggle.

"My concern was that if we returned this case to the same court, they'd simply boot it back and we'd have this standoff in which lives remain in the balance," McTeague said.

New trial possible

Despite the lower court upholding its original verdict and sentence, the higher court could now order a new trial, something that could bode well for Kohail.

The Canadian government could also intervene, something Kohail's supporters have lobbied for during the two years he has already spent in a Saudi jail.

If Ottawa did choose to formally act on Kohail's behalf, there are fears the issue may move beyond a judicial issue and become a political hot potato, especially as world leaders meet in London this week for a G20 summit.

But McTeague insists Canada could do so without its action being viewed as a foreign interference, since the highest Saudi court has already expressed reservations over the Kohail case.

"The Supreme Council made it abundantly clear as early as February that this was not a matter of murder, and it was not a matter of a death sentence," McTeague said.

"There is a golden opportunity to say, 'We ask that you ensure the life of an innocent man, Canadian or not, is respected.' But the prime minister has to give that message," he said.