Atheist Palestinian Poet’s Apostasy Sentence Reduced to 8 Years and 800 Lashes

Ken Mayer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Poet Ashraf Fayadh will now face 8 years in prison and 800 lashes for cursing Saudi Arabia and Prophet Mohammad.

Ashraf Fayadh, a poet from Palestine, who was previously given the death sentence by a Saudi court was commuted from the sentence. He will now face an eight-year long jail and 800 lashes. Fayadh was detained in 2013 by the Saudi religious police. The basis of his conviction was provided by a prosecution witness who claimed that Fayadh cursed God, the Prophet Mohammad of Islam and also Saudi Arabia. The poet was also prosecuted for a poetry book he wrote a few years ago.

This decision was arrived at by a judges panel after Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, the lawyer for Ashraf Fayadh, argued that the conviction was extremely flawed as the defendant was not given the chance of a fair trial. In his briefing to the press, al-Lahem said that death sentence was revoked but the court continued to uphold the decision that the poet committed apostasy. Although the lawyer welcomed the overturn of death sentence, he continued to affirm Fayadh's innocence. He announced that they will launch the appeal to ask bail.

Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch said that in lieu of beheading Fayadh, the Saudi court has given him the sentence of flogging and lengthy imprisonment. The Middle East researcher said that no person should be arrested for the peaceful expression of opinions and corporal punishment with prison time is unthinkable. The justice officials of Saudi Arabia must intervene and vacate the unjust sentence. Irvine Welsh, author, added that when such twisted barbarism is regarded as compromise, it is time western governments give a strong message to such a perverse regime.

The death sentence imposed in 2015 led to an international outcry. A large number of actors, artists and authors, including Chris Dercon, the Tate Modern director and Carol Ann Duffy, the British poet laureate and Helen Mirren, the actress, have appealed for Fayadh's release. About 60 international human rights and international arts groups, including PEN International and Amnesty International, have started a campaign asking the Saudi authorities, and also western governments, to save him. Fayadh's poetry reading took place in about 44 countries in 2016 alone to save him.

Fayadh reportedly suffers from mental health problems. He has spent nearly two years inside the Abha prison. The Abha city is located in south west of this ultra-conservative kingdom. Fayadh is a Palestinian refugee and is 35-years-old. He became known for being a curator of Edge of Arabia, a British-Saudi joint art effort.

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