Saudi court overturns death sentence for Ashraf Fayadh

Poet and artist now faces 800 lashes and eight years in prison

by Gareth Harris  |  2 February 2016
Saudi court overturns death sentence for Ashraf Fayadh
Ashraf Fayadh. Photo: Ashraf Fayadh/instagram
The Palestinian artist and poet Ashraf Fayadh has had his death sentence for apostasy overturned by a Saudi court, which has ruled instead that he receive an eight-year prison sentence and 800 lashes.

The artist, who was born in Saudi Arabia, was initially sentenced to death by a court in Abha, southern Saudi Arabia, in November. A panel of judges revoked the death penalty but upheld the apostasy conviction.
According to The Guardian, a memo written by Fayadh’s lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahem, was posted today (2 February) on Twitter with details of the punishment. The artist must also publicly renounce his poetry on Saudi state media. Al-Lahem plans to appeal against the new ruling.

In August 2013, Fayadh was detained by Saudi Arabia’s Committee on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or religious police. He was arrested at a café in Abha after another artist reported that Fayadh cursed the Prophet Muhammad and the Saudi government. In addition, Fayadh allegedly passed around a book of his own poetry that promoted atheism.

The artist was released but was re-arrested in January 2014, facing charges such as “spreading atheism and promoting it among the youth in public places, and mocking the verses of God and the prophets”. Fayadh denied all charges at his trial, which took place between February and March 2014. He also stressed that his book Instructions Within, published a decade before, was not blasphemous.

Last November, more than a dozen organisations, including the International Association of Art Critics, signed a joint statement condemning Fayadh’s conviction. Advisers to the United Nation's Human Rights Council also appealed to the Saudi Arabian government to stop the “unlawful” execution.

In 2013, Fayadh oversaw an exhibition entitled Mostly Visible at the Al Furusiyya Marina shopping mall in Jeddah, which featured emerging Saudi artists. The same year, he co-curated the exhibition, Rhizoma, at the Venice Biennale, which was organised by the UK-based, non-profit organisation Edge of Arabia.

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