NEW YORK—A long jail term and brutal flogging sentence handed down by Saudi Arabia today to Ashraf Fayadh extends the injustice against the esteemed poet, PEN America said in a statement today.

An Abha court today reduced Fayadh’s November 2015 death sentence, replacing it with eight years in prison and 800 lashes on charges of apostasy, a source close to the case told PEN America.

Fayadh, a Palestinian poet, artist, and curator living in Saudi Arabia, was first arrested in 2013 on accusations stemming from his poetry collection Instructions Within and an alleged personal altercation with a man who reported him to Saudi religious authorities. First convicted in May 2014, Fayadh’s sentence was heightened on appeal. His 2015 sentence to death was met by international outcry as artists and writers worldwide gathered in solidarity to read his poetry and press for his freedom.

“Our relief that Ashraf no longer faces beheading is diminished by the extended injustice and mercilessness of the new sentence dealt to him for the simple human act of artistic expression,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “Words do not constitute crimes. World leaders must stand firmly behind this principle in pressing Saudi authorities to release immediately Fayadh and others imprisoned in the Kingdom for peaceful acts of expression.”

Saudi Arabia is widely known for its intolerance of dissent against the state or its Wahhabi branch of Islam.  In January, the Kingdom executed 47 prisoners, including outspoken Shiite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr. Blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison and a thousand lashes, remains in solitary confinement at Dammam Prison after restarting a hunger strike last week to protest the mistreatment of all 120 prisoners held there, according to his official Twitter account.


Founded in 1922, PEN America is an association of 4,300 U.S. writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide.

Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: [email protected], +1.646.779.4830