On 17th November, poet Ashraf Fayad was sentenced to death by beheading, by a Saudi Arabian court. He has been accused of apostasy and spreading ‘destructive thoughts’ – but may still have a chance to live.
Fayad is a native of Saudi Arabia, born into a Palestinian family. He was first arrested in January 2014. The charges against Fayad include publishing a controversial book of poems released a decade ago, taking pictures of women with whom he was accused of having ‘illicit relationships’, and also posting a video online of the Saudi religious police lashing a man.
Fayad was not allowed legal representation. He has less than 30 days to repeal the death sentence.
Fayad has said his words have been twisted, and has apologized to anyone who may be offended by his poetry. But on Tuesday, a lower court argued that ‘repentance was for God’ and sentenced Fayad to death. Some believe he is being targeted because he is a Palestinian.
The verdict can still be repealed by a higher court. Moreover, all executions have to be approved by King Salman.
Fayad is a member of the British – Arabian art organization Edge of Arabia, and has introduced Saudi contemporary art in biennales around the world. His sentence has been widely condemned and is seen as Saudi Arabia’s ‘complete intolerance’ of differing views, as said by Adam Coogle, a Middle Eastern researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Saudi Arabia holds a notorious record for capital punishment – 151 people were executed this year, the highest since 192 in 1995. This comes just months after the country was elected Chair of the UN Human Rights Council in September.