Saudi Court Reduces Palestinian Poet’s Death Sentence to Jail and Lashes

Human rights groups continue to call for his immediate release.

Ashraf Fayadh Photo: Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin via Facebook
Ashraf Fayadh Photo: Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin via Facebook

A Saudi court has rescinded the death sentence of the Palestinian artist, poet, and curator Ashraf Fayadh and reduced it to eight years in prison and 800 lashes, to be carried out on 16 occasions, the Guardian reports. The court also ordered Fayadh to publicly repent on Saudi state media. Fayadh is accused of renouncing Islam.

The death sentence was overturned by a panel of judges after Fayadh’s lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahem, successfully argued that the conviction was unjust because his client was not granted a fair trial.

According to the Guardian, Lahem said the defense will follow up the new ruling by filing an appeal and pushing for Fayadh’s release.

According to Amnesty International Fayadh was first arrested in August 2013 after a Saudi citizen accused him of promoting atheism and spreading blasphemous material; he was released the following day.

What appears to be a self-portrait of Ashraf Fayadh. Photo: Ashraf Fayadh, via Instagram.

What appears to be a self-portrait of Ashraf Fayadh.
Photo: Ashraf Fayadh, via Instagram.

However, in January 2014 he was rearrested on charges of apostasy for the allegedly spreading atheism through his poetry. He was also charged with taking and storing photographs of women on his phone and was found guilty in November 2014 and was sentenced to death.

Fayadh has always maintained his innocence and said the original accusations were made by a man who has personal problems with him.

The court’s verdict was broadly condemned by the international arts community and numerous human rights organizations.

Ashraf Fayadh with a man at an art opening during Jeddah art week. Photo: Ashraf Fayadh, via Instagram.

International cultural figures such as outgoing Tate Modern director Chris Dercon have called for Fayadh’s immediate release.
Photo: Ashraf Fayadh, via Instagram.

“The Saudi Arabian authorities claim the his poetry has questioned religion and spread atheism,” Amnesty International said in a blog post calling for his release. “Ashraf has committed no crime. He is a prisoner of conscience.”

Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch told the Guardian, “Instead of beheading Ashraf Fayadh, a Saudi court has ordered a lengthy imprisonment and flogging. No one should face arrest for peacefully expressing opinions, much less corporal punishment and prison. Saudi justice officials must urgently intervene to vacate this unjust sentence.”

In January, supporters organized an international reading of Fayadh’s poetry in solidarity with the imprisoned artist. The BBC reported that organizers of Berlin’s International Literature Festival called for the UN to suspend Saudi Arabia’s membership from the human rights council “until its abysmal record on upholding civil liberties improves.”

Ashraf Fayadh with a woman at an art opening during Jeddah art week, which may have been used as evidence against him at his trial. Photo: Ashraf Fayadh, via Instagram.

Ashraf Fayadh with a woman at an art opening during Jeddah art week, which may have been used as evidence against him at his trial.
Photo: Ashraf Fayadh, via Instagram.

Fayadh rose to prominence as a member of Edge of Arabia, a British-Saudi arts collective which aims to bring Saudi and Middle-Eastern art to western audiences.

“He was instrumental to introducing Saudi contemporary art to Britain and connecting Tate Modern to the emerging scene,” Edge of Arabia co-founder Stephen Stapleton told the Guardian in November 2015. “He curated a major show in Jeddah in 2013 and co-curated a show at the Venice Biennale later that year.”


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