PEN America Leads Coalition in Open Letter to U.S. President Ahead of Visit to Saudi Arabia

NEW YORK—PEN America today released a letter calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to push for the release of poet Ashraf Fayadh in Saudi Arabia, where the President is scheduled to arrive tomorrow for a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The letter was signed by a coalition of rights groups including PEN America, Freedom House, Human Rights First, and the Center for Inquiry.

The text of the letter is available at https://pen.org/obama-ashraf-fayadh.

Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet, artist, and curator living in Saudi Arabia, was first arrested in 2013 on charges of apostasy stemming from his poetry collection Instructions Within and an alleged personal altercation with a man who reported him to Saudi religious authorities. He was sentenced to death in November 2015, sparking international outcry as more than 800 artists and writers worldwide signed on to a letter urging the President to press for Fayadh’s freedom.

In February, Fayadh’s sentence was reduced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes. His lawyers have filed an appeal, still pending in the courts.

“No act of expression can justify 800 lashes, a cruel and inhumane punishment with the capacity not only to cause enormous pain and suffering, but to maim or kill,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America, in a statement. “As a country that boasts a strong commitment to human rights, the United States must leverage its relationship with Saudi Arabia to uphold basic freedoms as the hallmark of U.S. foreign policy. While President Obama has an audience with Saudi officials, this trip provides a timely and imperative opportunity to increase the pressure on King Salman to put an end to one of the most egregious free expression violations today.”

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression at home and abroad. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1 (646) 779.4830