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Kohail Sentenced to Death in Jeddah School Fight Case

IN a ruling that was not very surprising, a Saudi Arabian court in Jeddah on Monday sentenced to death Mohamed Kohail, a Canadian citizen of Palestinian origin, for the death of Munzer Haraki during a fight at the Edugates International School in January 2007.

I did a some reporting on this story last year and from my notes I can say that the family of the Syrian victim was intent on the death penalty for Mohamed Kohail and his younger brother Sultan, who was initially held in a facility for minors and then allowed out on bail. He still awaits his verdict and could possibly be sentenced to death too.

The Canada.com website [1] reports that Mohamed’s friend Muhanna Ezzat, who is Jordanian as far as I know and not Saudi, was also sentenced to death for his participation in the fight.

Last year a video clip of the fight appeared, apparently filmed on the mobile phone of one of the students at the school. I watched the clip, which does not show the entire fight, and was startled at the level of violence used in the fight, with boys picking up huge concrete blocks to smash on each other’s heads. At one point in the video, an Egyptian man, possibly a teacher or a parent, tries to intervene and stop the fight but to no avail.

A friend of the Kohail’s is quoted in many Canadian newspapers anonymously saying that the court refused to hear all of the defense witnesses and that Mohamed initially refused to fingerprint the death sentence verdict, even allegedly saying that they would have to cut off his fingertip first to get his fingerprint on it [2]. He eventually relented and fingerprinted the document.

Many friends of the Kohail family complained that Mohamed should not have been found guilty of murder in the first degree, as the death of Munzer was accidental. [3] An autopsy of Munzer found that he died of internal bleeding and heart failure. When I spoke to Mohamed’s lawyer last year, he admitted that Mohamed had punched Munzer several times in the stomach, but that it was only in self-defense after Munzer had attacked him. Unfortunately, I do not think that Saudi courts are used to making fine distinctions between intentional and unintentional murder.

Finally, anecdotal evidence suggests that many of the male students at Edugates and other private schools in Jeddah regularly engage in street fights. What this is a reflection of, I’m not sure. Is it because they are in a highly-segregated society where they don’t have enough exposure to the opposite sex? Is it because their parents don’t spend enough time monitoring them and finding out what they they’re doing after school? I think that perhaps it’s a bit of both.

I don’t think that Munzer’s death should be trivialized and cheapened by the explanation that “it was just a schoolyard brawl.” That to me that is insulting and dismissive. A young man died unnecessarily, and we should hope that somehow we can change the circumstances that led to such a sad event so that it never happens again in the future.