Location Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia sentences poet to DEATH for renouncing Islam

A Saudi court ordered the execution of Ashraf Fayadh, 35, after he was detained in 2013 after a complaint he was cursing against Allah and the prophet Muhammed in a book of poems.

The poet, who is a leading member of Saudi Arabia’s nascent contemporary art scene, was originally sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes in 2014.

But after his appeal was dismissed he was retried last month and a new panel of judges ruled that his repentance did not prevent his execution.

Fayadh said: “I was really shocked but it was expected, though I didn’t do anything that deserves death.»

His supporters believe he is being punished by hardliners for posting a video online showing religious police in Abha lashing a man in public.

Mona Kareem, a migrant rights activist from Kuwait who has led a campaign for Fayadh’s release, said: For one and a half years they promised him an appeal and kept intimidating him that there’s new evidence.

«He was unable to assign a lawyer because his ID was confiscated when he was arrested. Then they said you must have a retrial and we’ll change the prosecutor and the judges. The new judge didn’t even talk to him, he just made the verdict.”

Ms Kareem also believes Fayadh is being targeted because he is a Palestinian refugee — despite being born in Saudi Arabia.

The poet, who does not have legal representation, has been given 30 days to appeal the ruling.

Religious police in Saudi Arabia first detained Fayadh in August 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.

Fayadh said the complaint came from a personal dispute with another artist during a discussion about contemporary art in a cafe in Abha, a city in the south-west of the ultraconservative kingdom.

He was released ob bail after a day but the police arrested him again on January 1 2014, confiscating his ID and detaining him at a police station until he was transferred to the local prison.

Police started berating Fayadh for smoking and having long hair after they failed to prove his poetry was atheist propaganda, according to his friends.

Fayadh said: «They accused me [of] atheism and spreading some destructive thoughts into society.»

He was sentenced to death on Tuesday after the case went to trial in February 2014 when the complaint and two religious police members told the court Fayadh had publicly blasphemed, promoted atheism to young people and conducted illicit relationships with women.

He was also accused of storing images of women on his mobile phone.

Fayadh denied the accusations of blasphemy and told the court he was a faithful Muslim. According to the court documents, he said: “I am repentant to God most high and am innocent of what appeared in my book mentioned in this case.”

The documents also state that he admitted having relationships with the women.

The case highlights the growing tensions between hardline religious conservatives and the small but increasing numbers of artists and activists attempting to push the boundaries of freedom of speech in the Islamic country where cinema and art schools are banned.

Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Fayadh’s death sentence showed Saudi Arabia’s “complete intolerance of anyone who may not share government-mandated religious, political and social views”.

He added: “If Saudi Arabia wishes to improve its human rights record it must release Fayadh and overhaul its justice system to prevent all prosecutions solely for peaceful speech – especially those that result in beheading.”


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