Saudi Arabia: Free Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh


Saudi authorities continue to detain Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh although he completed his eight-year sentence nearly five months ago.

On 02 February 2016, the General Court in Abha, located in southwestern Saudi Arabia, commuted the death sentence against Fayadh, replacing it with eight years in prison and 800 lashes.

Fayadh was arrested for the first time on 06 August 2013, on the basis of a malicious complaint submitted by a citizen to the Committee on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, accusing him of "carrying misleading, misguided ideas." He was released the next day for lack of evidence.

On 01 January 2014, he was re-arrested by the Committee on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and imprisoned in one of Abha's prisons, and banned from receiving visitors, as he was accused of spreading atheism through his poetry and calling for it among young people in public places. He was also charged with Violation of Article 6 of the Anti-Cybercrime Law by taking pictures of women and storing them on his mobile phone.

During the trial, which took place over six sessions, Fayadh denied these accusations and summoned three witnesses who refuted the testimony of the person who had complained against him to the Committee. Fayadh also confirmed that his book "Instructions Within", whose poems were circulated ten years ago, contains love poems, and was not written with the intention of insulting religion. Despite this explanation, he announced his repentance and retraction from anything in the book that the Committee might find offensive.

On 26 May 2014, the General Court of Abha convicted him and sentenced him to four years in prison and 800 lashes. The court rejected the Public Prosecution’s request to impose the death penalty on him for apostasy because of testimony in the trial about the "enmity" between Fayadh and the complainant, as well Fayadh’s repentance. Nonetheless, the Court of Appeal returned the case to the General Court with a recommendation that he be sentenced for apostasy.

On 17 November 2015, the General Court in Abha issued its death sentence against him for apostasy, a decision which it later overturned.

His trial lacked all the minimum international standards of fair trial and due process, including the denial of access to a lawyer during his trial before the General Court in Abha.

Ashraf Abdulsattar Fayadh is a 42-year-old poet and plastic artist. He is a member of a Palestinian family that has lived in Saudi Arabia for 57 years.

His first poetry collection, "Instructions Within" was published by Al-Farabi House in Beirut in 2007, in which the poet puts his observations and impressions about life. Among his poetic passages is this passage that reveals the tragedy of the Palestinian refugee in various places of exile:

Asylum: to stand at the end of the row…

To get a piece of a homeland.

Standing: Something your grandfather was doing... without knowing why!

And the broken: You.

Home: A card placed in the wallet.

Money: Papers on which the leaders' portraits are drawn.

Photo: on your behalf until you return.

And the return: a mythical being... mentioned in the grandmother's tales.

Lesson one is over.

In March 2013, Fayadh and a group of artists, photographers and painters organised an exhibition called " Pillar of Light" in the city of Jeddah. His idea was inspired by the Arabic scientist Al-Hassan bin Al-Haytham, who studied the psychological effects of the process of vision, and concluded that dim light makes us see things more clearly.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on the US and UK governments and international mechanisms including those of the United Nations to take immediate actions to ensure the release of Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh and all other detained human rights defenders and activists in Saudi Arabia.  

GCHR further calls on the Saudi authorities to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release the poet Ashraf Fayadh, along with all other detained activists, human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience;
  2. While he remains in prison, provide him with access to his family and proper medical care;
  3. Respect public freedoms, including freedom of expression, on and off the Internet, and protect the civil and human rights of all citizens without exception; and
  4. Ensure that all activists, journalists and human rights defenders in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are able, in all circumstances, to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and without any restrictions, including judicial harassment.

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