Saudi Arabian court convicts poet of apostasy, sentences to death

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced Saudi-born Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death on Tuesday for allegedly committing apostasy, a crime punishable by death under Saudi Arabia's interpretation of Sharia Law. The court decision was brought to light yesterday by Adam Coogle, a researcher working for Human Rights Watch.

File photo of Dira Square, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where public executions are carried out under Sharia Law.
Image: Luke Richard Thompson.

Fayadh has previously posted a video online of a public lashing by religious police. Mona Kareem, an activist from Kuwait calling for Fayadh's release, said "some Saudis think this was revenge by the morality police."

Fayadh was detained by police in August 2013, accused of blasphemy and promoting atheism through his poems. According to Fayadh, this stemmed from a dispute with a fellow artist. He was soon released under bail.

Fayadh was again arrested in January 2014. He was tried at a court in Abha in February under allegations of committing blasphemy, promoting atheism, and having illegal relationships with women. He was sentenced in May that year to four years of jail and 800 lashes. Fayadh appealed the decision, and the case was retried by another judge, who sentenced him to death.

Activist Mona Kareem said the judge for Fayadh's retrial "didn't even talk to [Fayadh], he just made the verdict."

Fayadh was given 30 days to appeal the court ruling, but according to Kareem, Fayadh "was unable to assign a lawyer because his ID was confiscated when he was arrested" in January 2014.

Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle called the court ruling an example of Saudi Arabia's "complete intolerance for anyone who may not share government-mandated religious, political, and social views."