Poet and Artist Ashraf Fayadh Sentenced to Death by Saudi Arabia
Posted on November 24, 2015
A Saudi Arabian court has ordered the execution of highly poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh (pictured above right with Tate Modern director Chris Dercon) on the grounds that his poetry promotes atheism and "spreads destructive thoughts into society." Fayadh is a Palestinian who was born in Saudi Arabia. He is a leading member of the British-Saudi art organization called Edge of Arabia. He has curated art shows and has worked to introduce Saudi Arabia's contemporary artists to the world.
Fayadh has been given 30 days to appeal the ruling, according to PEN International, but that is going to be difficult because the court refused his request for counsel after the police confiscated his ID.
He was originally sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes by the general court in the conservative city of Abha, in May, 2014, according to Pen International. He appealed, but was denied. Then he was retried before a new panel of judges who not only found him guilty but increased the punishment to death.
Fayadh told The Guardian, "I was really shocked but it was expected, though I didn’t do anything that deserves death." He talked about the charges against him saying, "They accused me [of] atheism and spreading some destructive thoughts into society." He said the charges stemmed from the publication of his 2008 book Instructions Within, which was "just about me being [a] Palestinian refugee ... about cultural and philosophical issues. But the religious extremists explained it as destructive ideas against God."
The poet's friends told The Guardian that after the religious police failed to prove that his poetry promoted atheism, they then charged him for smoking and having long hair. They also accused him of having photos of unmarried women on his phone. Fayadh told the court he is a good Muslim, and that the photos such as the one below (which were also posted on Instagram) were with fellow female artists he met during Jeddah's Art Week celebration.
There has been a thriving art scene in parts of Saudi Arabia which is under fire from the religious police. Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle told The Guardian that this death sentence over poetry shows Saudi Arabia's "complete intolerance of anyone who may not share government-mandated religious, political and social views." Coogle further noted that, “The trial records in this case indicate clear due process violations, including charges that do not resemble recognisable crimes and lack of access to legal assistance."
Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, called for Fayadh's release in an open statement: "We are shocked by the news that a Saudi court has ordered the execution of poet Ashraf Fayadh. This is yet another example of the Kingdom’s complete lack of respect for freedom of expression and its persecution of free thinkers. We call on the Saudi authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, and urge our own government to speak out on his behalf as a matter of urgency. Pen International has called for the release of Ashraf Fayadh and for all charges to be dropped."