World Poetry Day 2016: Take Action for Ashraf Fayadh
Saudi Arabian-born Palestinian poet, artist, curator, Ashraf Fayadh, was initially arrested in August 2013, accused of “misguided and misguiding thoughts” following the submission of a complaint to the Saudi Arabian Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. According to reports, the complaint contended that Fayadh had made obscene comments about God, the Prophet Muhammad, and the Saudi Arabian state. Released on bail, he was rearrested on January 1, 2014 on charges including “insulting the divine self” and having long hair. He has been held in a prison in the city of Abha ever since.
According to court documents seen by PEN International, during his trial held over six hearings between February and May 2014, Fayadh stood accused of numerous blasphemy-related charges, including “insulting the divine self and the prophet Mohammed,” “spreading atheism,” “refuting the Qur’an,” and “insulting the King and the Kingdom,” among other charges. Evidence compiled against him included at least 10 pages from his collection of poetry Instructions Within, published by the Beirut-based Dar al-Farabi in 2008 and later banned from distribution in Saudi Arabia. Also used as evidence against him were Twitter posts, and conversations he had had in a coffee shop in the city of Abha, where he lived. Fayadh was also accused of having illicit relations with foreign women in connection with images stored on his mobile telephone. English translations of the poetry used in evidence against him are available here. Other poetry by Fayadh, is available here and here.
According to court documents, witness testimony claimed that the complaint submitted to the Saudi Arabian Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice was the result of a personal dispute. During the last session, Fayadh expressed repentance for anything in the book that religious authorities may have deemed insulting, stating “I am repentant to God most high and I am innocent of what appeared in my book mentioned in this case.”
According to court documents, on April 30, 2014, the General Court of Abha found proof of Fayadh having committed apostasy (ridda) and also his repentance for it. The court therefore ruled to lift the penalty for apostasy; however, it sentenced him to four years in prison and 800 lashes – to be administered 50 at a time every 10 days – for storing images on his mobile telephone, and the confiscation of his telephone.
On June 17, 2015, the General Court of Abha sentenced Fayadh to death for the crime of being an infidel (kufr) following a re-trial. The court argued that Fayadh’s repentance for the crime of apostasy was a matter of the heart and should have no bearing determining whether or not the crime had been committed. Fayadh appealed the sentence.
On February 2, 2016, a Saudi Arabian court replaced the death sentence with an eight-year prison term and 800 lashes. Fayadh has further appealed against this fresh conviction.
Write a letter: Your voice matters. Use the information below to write and send a letter.
Spread the word: The simplest and most effective response to censorship is to spread the word. Use the social media tools below to share this page and get the word out.
- #SaudiArabia: Release artist and poet #AshrafFayadh @PENAmerican http://bit.ly/1RTQ3vP
- On #WorldPoetryDay take action for poets imprisoned for exercising their right to #FreeExpression http://bit.ly/1Ms1kBI
PEN members are encouraged to:
- Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the situation about freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.
- Organize public events, stage readings, press conferences or demonstrations.
- Share information about Saudi Arabia and your campaigning activities for Ashraf Fayadh via social media
- Elect Ashraf Fayadh as an Honorary Member of your Center and by doing so provide long term support and advocacy for him and his family. For details of the PEN International Honorary Membership scheme, read the PEN WiPC Guide to Defending Writers Under Attack (Part V, pgs 15-20). Please let us know if you do so and we will ensure that your Center is networked with others working on the case.
- Post messages of support, poetry or artwork on the dedicated website ashraffayadh.com
Write A Letter
- Welcoming the commutation of the death sentence imposed on Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh;
- Urging the government to immediately commute his sentence of 800 lashes, as it violates the absolute prohibition in international law against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
- Calling on the authorities to release Ashraf Fayadh immediately and unconditionally, as he is held solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression;
- Calling on Saudi Arabia to ratify, without reservation, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Send Your Letter To
His Majesty King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques
Office of His Majesty of the King
Royal Court, Riyadh
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior) +66 11 403 3125
Salutation: Your Majesty
Crown Prince and Minster of the Interior
His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Ministry of the Interior
P.O. Box 2933, Airport Road,
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 11 403 3125
Salutation: Your Royal Highness
Minister of Justice
His Excellency Shaykh Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkareem Al-Issa
Ministry of Justice, University Street
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 11 401 1741
+966 11 402 0311
Salutation: Your Excellency
It is recommended that you send a copy of your appeals via the diplomatic representative for Saudi Arabia in your country. Contact details for embassies can be found here.