Palestinian artist and poet Ashraf Fayadh was detained at a café in Abha in southern Saudi Arabia in August 2013. Members of Saudi Arabia’s Committee on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as the religious morality police, arrested him after a man reported that Fayadh made insulting public comments about God, the Prophet Mohamed, and Saudi Arabia. The same man added that Fayadh passed around a poetry book he wrote that allegedly promoted atheism. He was released after one day.
Fayadh was arrested again on January 1, 2014, and charged with a number of apostasy-related offenses, including denouncing Allah himself,” and the Prophet Mohammed, spreading atheism and promoting it to the youth, refuting the Koran and the Day of Resurrection, and indulging in illicit relationships with women and saving their photos on his phone. Fayadh denied all the charges and stated that he met the women in an art gallery.
According to Human Rights Watch, on May 26, 2014, the General Court of Abha convicted Fayadh and sentenced him to four years in prison and 800 lashes. The court rejected the prosecutor’s request for a death sentence for blasphemy based on court testimony indicating “hostility” between Fayadh and the man who reported him, and it cited Fayadh’s statement of repentance made in court.
Excerpts from his poetry book,Instructions Witihin, published in 2008 and banned in Saudi Arabia, were used against him in court to support the charges.
The prosecutor appealed the ruling and the case was eventually sent back to the lower court.
On November 17, 2015, Fayadh was sentenced to death for apostasy for alleged blasphemous statements he made during a discussion group and in his poetry book. The judge ruled that Fayadh’s repentance was not enough to avoid the death sentence.
The appeals court and the Supreme Court must approve the sentence.
Fayadh is Saudi-born and remains officially stateless. He is a member of the British-Saudi art collective Edge of Arabia and has been credited with curating art shows in Jeddah and the Venice Biennale to promote the work of Saudi contemporary artists. In 2013 he curated “Mostly Visible,”an exhibition in Jeddah that brought together the work of 30 artists.
“They accused me [of] atheism and spreading some destructive thoughts in society,” said Fayadh to The Guardian newspaper.
He added that his book, Instructions Within, was “just about me being [a] Palestinian refugee, about cultural and philosophical issues. But the religious extremists explained it as destructive ideas against God.”
Fayadh stated that he was not able to appoint a lawyer because his ID was confiscated during his initial arrest in 2014. He also confirmed that the judge never spoke to him in court before announcing the verdict.
On February 3, 2016 a Saudi court overturned the death sentence imposing an eight-year prison term and 800 lashes instead. He must also repent through an announcement in official media.
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