Saved from execution, but still faces torture and long prison sentence
February 11, 2016—After international protests over his sentence, Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, 35, has been saved from execution. His death sentence has been reversed by a Saudi Arabian court, but he has now been sentenced to 800 lashes and eight years in prison. He has also been told to make a public statement repenting his apostasy, which is the rejection of religious beliefs.
Fayadh was arrested in August 2013 after a Saudi citizen alleged he was promoting atheism and spreading blasphemous ideas. The charge apparently related to his collection of poetry, Instructions Within, published in 2008, which critics said questioned religion and spread atheist thought. Fayadh, was also charged with violating Saudi Arabia’s anti-cyber crime law by taking and storing photos of women on his mobile phone.
In April 2014, a Saudi court in Abha sentenced Mr Fayadh to four years in prison and 800 lashes for violating the anti-cyber crime law. But it found his repentance in relation to the charge of apostasy to be satisfactory and not requiring further punishment. However, an appeals court overturned the ruling and sent the case back to the original court, which sentenced him to death for apostasy on November 17, 2015.
Fayadh has continually denied the charges, but was convicted of apostasy. His death sentence caused an international outcry with Amnesty International, PEN International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups and hundreds of writers, actors, artists and others appealing against his sentence and urging his release. In January, hundreds of writers took part in a worldwide reading of selected poems and other texts in support of Fayadh.
The International Literature Festival Berlin called on the U.S. and UK governments to intervene on Fayadh’s behalf and also demanded that the UN suspend Saudi Arabia from the Human Rights Council “until its abysmal record on upholding civil liberties improves.”
Fayadh’s lawyer is appealing against the court’s new ruling. He has already been languishing in prison for the past two years as this court process has dragged on.
Fayadh, who was born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian refugee parents, is credited with taking Saudi contemporary art to a global audience.
“It is a relief that Ashraf Fayadh no longer faces execution, but this is a wholly disproportionate and shocking sentence...The charges against him should have been dropped and he should be a free man today. We will continue to campaign for his release,” said Jo Glanville, the director of English PEN.
Please take action to help support and free Ashraf Fayadh. Publicize his case and write to the Saudi Arabian Embassy in your country and contact the human rights organizations that are campaigning for his release.
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