Freemuse protests the decision of the Saudi Arabian General Court of Abha to sentence Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death for apostasy. Used as evidence against him were several poems within his book ‘Instructions Within’, twitter posts, and conversations he had in a coffee shop in Abha.
61 organisations for artists, writers, musicians and freedom of expression from Europe, North America and Africa – including Freemuse, Index on Censorship, literary association PEN International and the International Association of Art Critics – have signed a joint statement to the Saudi authorities condemning Fayadh’s conviction for renouncing Islam, a charge which he denies.
Says Freemuse Executive Director, Ole Reitov: “The country has increased its extreme hard line repression of artistic expressions. We should remind Saudi Arabia of the its obligations to protect its cultural heritage and study the Human Rights Council’s General Comment in July 2011 on Article 19 (Freedoms of opinion and expression) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which stated that ‘prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant’.”
The statement was delivered to the Saudi embassy in London by English PEN on 27 November 2015. An excerpt:
“We believe that all charges against him should have been dropped entirely, and are appalled that Fayadh has instead been sentenced to death for apostasy, simply for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and freedom of belief.
As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, the pre-eminent intergovernmental body tasked with protecting and promoting human rights, and the Chair of the HRC’s Consultative Group, Saudi Arabia purports to uphold and respect the highest standards of human rights.”
Excerpt from the joint statement
Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a leading commentator on Arab affairs and founder of the Barjeel art foundation in the United Arab Emirates, said: “Saudi Arabia has recently invested heavily in the cultural scene. Such an abhorrent death sentence against an artist and member of the cultural community is an irreconcilable step with regards to Saudi’s cultural ambitions. I hope that the Saudi authorities intervene to save this young man’s life.”
Leading international cultural figures joined the human rights campaigners in calling for the release of Ashraf Fayadh, demanding Saudi Arabia to overturn Ashraf Fayadh’s conviction on 17 November 2015 for renouncing Islam.
“It is not a crime to hold an idea, however unpopular, nor is it a crime to express opinion peacefully. Every individual has the freedom to believe or not believe. Freedom of conscience is an essential human freedom,” 250 poets from around the world write in an appeal letter in an expression of solidarity. Poets and writers in support of Ashraf Fayadh are petitioning the Saudi government.
Saudi Arabia’s al-Watan news website quoted Fayadh’s brother-in-law, Osama Abu Raya, as saying that Ashraf Fayadh plans to appeal the death sentence.
Photo 1 – on top of this page: Ashraf Fayadh, in an undated photo posted on his Instagram account
Photo 2 and 3: Protesters from English Pen in front of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London
» The Guardian – 27 November 2015:
Fellow poets protest Saudi death sentence facing Ashraf Fayadh
“Carol Ann Duffy, Paul Muldoon and Adonis among writers signing PEN letter calling on Saudi courts to free Palestinian poet convicted of apostasy, and to allow freedom of expression”
» The Guardian – 25 November 2015:
Cultural figures and rights groups call for release of poet facing execution
“Individuals and creative organisations join Amnesty International to demand Saudi Arabia overturn Ashraf Fayadh’s conviction for renouncing Islam”
» Twitter feed: #FreeAshraf
» Petition for poets and writers in support of Ashraf Fayadh
» Artsfreedom.org – 23 November 2015:
Saudi Arabia: Poet sentenced to death
“According to PEN International, Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to death on 17 November 2015 by a Saudi Arabian court for renouncing Islam.”
Joint statement to the Saudi authorities
His Excellency Shaykh Dr Mohammed bin Abdulkareem Al-Issa
Ministry of Justice,
Riyadh 11137 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
27 November 2015
RE: Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh
We, the undersigned organisations, all dedicated to the value of creative freedom, are writing to express our grave concern that Ashraf Fayadh has been sentenced to death for apostasy.
Ashraf Fayadh, a poet, artist, curator, and member of British-Saudi art organisation Edge of Arabia, was first detained in August 2013 in relation to his collection of poems Instructions Within following the submission of a complaint to the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue. He was released on bail but rearrested in January 2014.
According to court documents, in May 2014 the General Court of Abha found proof that Fayadh had committed apostasy (ridda) but had repented for it. The charge of apostasy was dropped, but he was nevertheless sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes in relation to numerous charges related to blasphemy.
At Ashraf Fayadh’s retrial in November 2015 the judge reversed the previous ruling, declaring that repentance was not enough to avoid the death penalty. We believe that all charges against him should have been dropped entirely, and are appalled that Fayadh has instead been sentenced to death for apostasy, simply for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and freedom of belief.
As a member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the pre-eminent intergovernmental body tasked with protecting and promoting human rights, and the Chair of the HRC’s Consultative Group, Saudi Arabia purports to uphold and respect the highest standards of human rights. However the decision of the court is a clear violation of the internationally recognised rights to freedom of conscience and expression. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that, ‘[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief’. Furthermore, under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘[e]veryone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’. Saudi Arabia is therefore in absolute contravention of the rights that as a member of the UN HRC it has committed to protect.
There are also widespread concerns over an apparent lack of due process in the trial: Fayadh was denied legal representation, reportedly as a result of his ID having been confiscated following his arrest in January 2014. It is our understanding that Fayadh has 30 days to appeal this latest ruling, and we urge the authorities to allow him access to the lawyer of his choice.
We call on the Saudi authorities to release Ashraf Fayadh and others detained in Saudi Arabia in violation of their right to freedom of expression immediately and unconditionally.
AICA (International Association of Art Critics)
Amnesty International UK
Artists for Palestine UK
Bread and Roses TV
British Humanist Association
Centre for Secular Space
CIMAM (International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art)
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
Five Leaves Publications
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
International Humanist and Ethical Union
Iranian PEN in Exile
Jimmy Wales Foundation
Ledbury Poetry Festival
Modern Poetry in Translation
National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC)
One Darnley Road
One Law for All
PEN American Center
PEN South Africa
Peter Tatchell Foundation
San Miguel PEN
Society of Authors
South African PEN
Split This Rock
Suisse Romand PEN
School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, University of East Anglia
The Voice Project
Wales PEN Cymru