Saudi Arabia Court Sentences Poet to Death for Renouncing Islam


A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a poet to death for apostasy, the abandonment of Islam.

Ashraf Fayadh, 35, received his sentence without any legal representation. He has 30 days to appeal. Human Rights Watch Middle East researcher Adam Coogle examined the court documents.

“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,” he declared.

In May 2014, a court sentenced him to four years in prison and 800 lashes. He appealed, which was dismissed. Instead, the court retried him with a new panel of judges.

Authorities arrested the poet in 2013 “after receiving a complaint that he was cursing against Allah and the prophet Muhammad, insulting Saudi Arabia and distributing a book of his poems that promoted atheism” and for having long hair.

Police released him on bail, but rearrested him on January 1, 2014. He told the court he is a “faithful Muslim.

“I am repentant to God most high and am innocent of what appeared in my book mentioned in this case,” he said.

His friends believe authorities are punishing him because he filmed the “religious police lashing a young man in public,” right before his arrest in August 2013. But others think it is because he is Palestinian.

“Ashraf is Palestinian, but he was born in Saudi Arabia and his family has been here for 50 years,” explained his friend Ahmed Mater. “That creates a lot of pressure against Ashraf. If he wasn’t from this background they wouldn’t jail him in this strange way; they put him in jail without even being seen by a judge — without anyone speaking to him except for his father.”

He allegedly said he had relationships with women, but he claimed “his words had been twisted: the women were fellow artists and the photos on his phone, some of which he posted on Instagram, were taken during Jeddah art week, Saudi Arabia’s most important contemporary art event.” He curated the art show along with other shows at the Venice Biennale. Artists told the media that Fayadh is responsible for showing the world Saudi contemporary art.

“He was instrumental to introducing Saudi contemporary art to Britain and connecting Tate Modern to the emerging scene,” said Stephen Stapleton, co-founder of Edge of Arabia. “He curated a major show in Jeddah in 2013 and co-curated a show at the Venice Biennale later that year. I’ve known him since 2003. He’s a truly wonderful, kind person. He’s an intellectual and creative but he’s not an atheist.”

In May 2014, the courts sentenced blogger Raif Badawi to ten years in prison for insulting Islam after police arrested him on June 17, 2012. The court cleared him of apostasy charges in 2013.

In February, a Saudi court sentenced a man to death after he appeared in a video of him allegedly ripping up the Koran and cursing Muhammed.

Iranian authorities arrested cartoonist Hadi Heidari and placed him in Evin prison this week.

“He was convicted two years ago for his cartoons and was sentenced to one year in jail,” said his attorney Saleh Nikbakht. “The authorities had a different interpretation of his cartoons than he had.”