Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia (Updated)

Middle East
on 33 Comments

The Palestinian artist, curator, and poet Ashraf Fayadh, 35, has been sentenced to death by beheading. Saudi Arabian authorities have declared his crime as “apostasy,” or abandoning one’s religion—in this case, renouncing Islam. Several other charges were also leveled against Fayadh, including allegedly photographing women and storing their pictures on his phone, a violation of the country’s Anti-Cyber Crime Law. He pleaded his innocence to all the charges. Amnesty International UK states that, “Throughout this whole process, Ashraf was denied access to a lawyer—a clear violation of international human rights law, as well as Saudi Arabia’s national laws.”

The reasons for Fayadh’s arrest and imprisonment are contested, emanating from a personal dispute with another artist which escalated into the larger accusation of apostasy and blasphemy, including by the Saudi religious police. In addition, his 2008 book of poems, Instructions Within, was cited as promulgating “atheism and destructive thoughts.”

Poets, artists, and intellectuals from the Arab world and throughout the world have been speaking out, writing articles, signing petitions, and calling for Fayadh’s acquittal. In February 2014, one hundred Arab intellectuals demanded his release from Saudi prison. The PEN American Center sent a letter to President Obama in December 2015 calling on him to press Saudi Arabia’s ruler, King Salman, to release Fayadh. Experts, however, do not expect the United States—which has close ties with Saudi Arabia—to exert any pressure on the kingdom to overturn Fayadh’s sentence. “Our only hope now is that the Saudi king will stop this madness and save Ashraf, together with the other seven people given the death penalty because of political speeches or peaceful protests,” writes a Saudi author.

Saudi Arabia’s recent executions of 47 individuals on January 2, 2016, including prominent Shi`a cleric Nimr al-Nimr, have fueled the animosity between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic of Iran. This also underlined, again, the country’s highly conservative religious worldview, intolerance of dissent, and heavy-handed methods. Many also question the United Nations’ appointment of the country to the Human Rights Council in September 2015; although the US State Department said that it welcomes the news that Saudi Arabia would actually head this council, many other countries and nongovernmental organizations were appalled.

A world-wide reading of Fayadh’s poems, sponsored by the international literature festival Berlin (ilB), is scheduled for today, January 14. The list of events grows by day, and now includes the University of Iowa’s prestigious International Writing ProgramSigners of this initiative hail from many countries, including from the Middle East and North Africa, Europe, and North and South America, as well as International PEN groups. Newly translated poems have been posted to the internet for reading on January 14th.

Fayadh’s family is originally from Gaza, but he was born in Saudi Arabia and has been living and working in the southwestern Saudi city of Abha. Ironically, it was Fayadh who has played a key role in bringing Saudi art to world audiences, most notably as a member of the Saudi-British collaborative project, Edge of Arabia. In addition, the 55th Venice Biennale featured “Rhizoma,” a show curated by Fayadh and the Guggenheim Museum’s Sara Raza. “RHIZOMA’s premise draws from the actual rhizoma, the ancient Greek word for the underground root of a plant that shoots its roots both horizontally and vertically as a metaphor for a bold new generation of [Saudi] artists who are challenging the force of gravity through inspiring projects.” It is most troubling and, indeed, horrifying that the Saudi government has chosen to deal a blow to such efforts, and actually sever the roots of free speech and expression.

(Correction: This article originally stated Ashraf Fayadh’s execution was set for today. This is incorrect and the article has been updated. According to the Guardian a panel of judges will be considering an appeal in Fayadh’s case next week.)

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.

About Zeina Azzam

Zeina Azzam is executive director of The Jerusalem Fund in Washington, DC and its educational program, the Palestine Center. The views expressed are her own.

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33 Responses

  1. Annie Robbins
    January 14, 2016, 11:23 am

    this is so horrendous it’s hard to comprehend. devastating, so young so talented, so unworthy of this gruesome sentence. just deplorable.

  2. eljay
    January 14, 2016, 11:28 am

    Saudi Arabia is a brutal f*cking place. Disgusting. >:-(

    And, yet, this is the country that Zio-supremacists point to and proudly say “See? Our ‘Jewish State’ isn’t as bad as that!” Hateful and immoral morons.

    • Marnie
      January 15, 2016, 1:45 am

      “And, yet, this is the country that Zio-supremacists point to and proudly say “See? Our ‘Jewish State’ isn’t as bad as that!” ”

      And the US considers this backwards country an ally? What country were 19 of the 21 9-11 hijackers from? Who was allowed a quick exit out of the US right after, when everyone else was stranded in airports (including if I remember correctly, Daddy Bush)? Nothing but degenerates ( Men should be Allowed Sex Slaves and Female Prisoners …
      life-in-saudiarabia.blogspot.com/…/men-should-be-allowed-sex-slaves-; Guest Worker May Lose Digits, Toes After Being Tied Up in Bathroom for a Month, Hassan Adawi, Arab News, Jeddah, 23 March 2005 http://www.arabnews.com/node/264158; SEXUAL SLAVERY IN SAUDI ARABIA – Special Guests special-guests.com/guests/viewnews.cgi?id=EEyukEyAkuLVVMYSfk). It’s horrifying to witness this “friendship” between the degenerate filth known as the “Kingdom” and the US. And I realize this friendship isn’t new; does it go back maybe as far as the “friendship” with the evil “state” of Israel?

    • ikick
      January 15, 2016, 9:52 pm

      This is not the time to bring Israel into it. Grow up.

      • Annie Robbins
        January 16, 2016, 4:23 am

        rather selective don’t you think? curious. you say nothing about marnie’s comment, about SA being our ally. so that’s ok? where’s yours “no daylight between us” spirit? i don’t hear you saying ‘This is not the time to bring USFP into it. Grow up.’ why not? no complaints about “sexual slavery in saudi arabia …19 of the 21 9-11 hijackers, horrifying to witness this “friendship” between the degenerate filth known as the “Kingdom” and the US ” into it. Grow up.’ ?

        just … leave israel alone. strange. he’s a palestinian refugee in saudi arabia because of israel. you know that right? there’s no reason to leave israel alone.

      • eljay
        January 16, 2016, 9:27 am

        || ikick: This is not the time to bring Israel into it. Grow up. ||

        Stop being a hateful and immoral Zio-supremacist and start advocating, supporting and defending the universal and consistent application of justice, accountability and equality.

        Grow up.

      • CigarGod
        January 16, 2016, 11:33 am

        “Grow up.”…stomps out of room and slams door.
        Did we used to be married?

      • Marnie
        January 17, 2016, 1:02 am

        I’m not bringing “israel” into anything “ikick”. “Israel” thrusts itself into everything all by itself – you’re faulting me for noting the obvious?

        But more importantly, when’s a good time for you dear?

  3. Qualtrough
    January 14, 2016, 12:11 pm

    Blind Western support for these thugs while their missionaries spread their poisonous Wahabi perversion of Islam around the world created ticking time bombs that are going off all around us and it is just going to get worse from here on out. The latest bomb, both literally and figuratively, went off in Jakarta just today. Western invasions and bombing campaigns didn’t help much either. The two combined are delivering a one-two punch to a civilized world.

  4. Froggy
    January 14, 2016, 3:51 pm

    Murderers.

  5. JWalters
    January 14, 2016, 5:50 pm

    Executing a person over a disagreement about religion is contrary to the teachings of the Qur’an.

    “Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.”

    The Holy Qur’an, 16:125
    http://www.wright-house.com/religions/islam/Quran/16-bee.php

    This ignorant, murderous King Salman is betraying the graciousness of his own Prophet.

  6. JLewisDickerson
    January 14, 2016, 10:28 pm

    RE: “Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia (Updated)”

    I DID MY ‘PETITION THING’ A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO (not that it will do any good beyond whatever slight placebo effect I might experience):

    • Save Palestinian Poet Ashraf Fayadh Life. – Change.org
    https://www.change.org/p/barack-obama-department-of-states-u-s-department-of-state-secretary-general-of-u-n-human-rights-organizations-save-palestinian-poet-ashraf-fayadh-life
    Please join me to Ask the president and all those who can do something to intervene and exert pressure on Saudi government to repeal this barbaric sentence and stop persecuting people because of their thoughts and right to free speech and freedom of expression.

    • Save the palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh – Avaaz
    https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Amnesty_international_Save_the_palestinian_poet_and_artist_Ashraf_Fayadh

    • Free Ashraf, poet facing execution in Saudi Arabia … – Amnesty International UK
    https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/free-ashraf-fayadh-saudi-arabia-palestinian-poetry-apostasy-execution

    P.S. Double your petitions, double your hypochondriacal placebo effect! Every little bit helps!
    I will go ahead and sign these petitions again using another of my addresses, and formatting my name differently. I’ve got this down to a science (like a good, little devotee of the Elightenment)! Ironically, that might be part of “the problem”.*

    * SEE: The End of the Enlightenment: a Fable for Our Timeshttp://www.counterpunch.org/2016/01/14/the-end-of-the-enlightenment-a-fable-for-our-times-2/

  7. RoHa
    January 15, 2016, 12:08 am

    OT, but Alan Rickman has died.

    Probably he will be mostly remembered for his role as Serverus Snape (and that is no bad way to be remembered) but some here will recall that he and Katherine Viner put together and presented My Name Is Rachel Corrie.

    • just
      January 15, 2016, 6:53 am

      Thanks, RoHa~ I’ll always remember that and him. A truly great actor and person. A giant, in fact.

      RIP.

  8. Kay24
    January 16, 2016, 3:28 am

    Saudi Arabia has still not come out of the dark ages. To think they are trying to influence the rest of the Sunni world with their stone age thinking and laws, is frightening. Moderate Muslim nations should reject Saudi influence. The Shiite cleric who was executed was put to death for criticizing the royal family that rules……do we still have to be their buddies because of their damn oil?

  9. Qualtrough
    January 18, 2016, 1:13 am

    Every time anything critical of Israel appears on Mondoweiss we have the usual suspects asking why we don’t criticize countries X, Y, or Z because they are far worse. So now we have an article criticizing Saudi Arabia, and we have 14 people so far commenting to say they are disgusted and appalled. Come on Hopfmi, Jackdaw, Palkari, and Doublestandad (he’s proud of it?) would it kill you to acknowledge this act of even-handedness?

    P.S. I know that Israel is allied with the Saudi regime on several fronts, but it’s still another country.

  10. Herchel
    January 18, 2016, 10:16 am

    ” every time something critical of Israel ” – as if that is some rare event here? By that did you mean, every single piece that is ever published on the site?

    I had to read the headline three times because I was in such disbelief that someone other than the evil Zionists could be the villains of a story here. But before you give yourselves a Pulitzer Prize, where is the story of the jewish mother of six children that was brutally murdered inside her house? No, it is only when a Palestinian is killed… Or in this case potentially going to be killed… that the story is deamed newsworthy. Jewish victims of violence remain but important here.

    Not to mention , we have Israel still being blamed for this situation by some above.

    Keep giving yourself a pat on the back though…

    • talknic
      January 18, 2016, 7:28 pm

      @ Herchel ” By that did you mean, every single piece that is ever published on the site?”

      Uh? You’re commenting on a piece that isn’t. Look here, you say so yourself….

      “I had to read the headline three times because I was in such disbelief that someone other than the evil Zionists could be the villains of a story here.”

      “… where is the story of the jewish mother of six children that was brutally murdered inside her house? “

      By Saudis? WOW!! Now that really IS news!

    • Kris
      January 18, 2016, 11:44 pm

      @Herchel: “where is the story of the jewish mother of six children that was brutally murdered inside her house?

      There is a photo of the young mother in this article:

      A Palestinian terrorist stabbed to death Dafna Meir, 39, in front of three of her children at the entrance to their home on Sunday evening in the West Bank settlement of Otniel. http://www.vosizneias.com/227517/2016/01/17/west-bank-settlement-of-otniel-israeli-mother-of-six-murdered-by-terrorist-in-her-home-with-kids-nearby-idd-as-nurse-from-beersheba/

      Dafna was lovely, she worked as a nurse at a medical center in Beersheba, and she left six young children, now traumatized, behind. But she was not killed in her house. She was killed on land that belongs to the Palestinians. She was violating international law. She was killed while stealing someone else’s home.

      Otniel is an illegal Jewish “settlement,” and this young mother willingly chose to let herself and her children be used as human shields in Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

      Why would you expect mondoweiss to feature this sad story? It is a good cautionary tale, in which we are reminded that we must not steal or covet, that the greedy bring disaster upon their households, and that crime does not always pay, but everyone except Jewish “settlers” seems to know this already, so what would be the point?

      • yonah fredman
        January 19, 2016, 2:08 am

        kris- It is a good cautionary tale, in which we are reminded that we must not steal or covet, that the greedy bring disaster upon their households, and that crime does not always pay, but everyone except Jewish “settlers” seems to know this already, so what would be the point? – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/recent-comments#sthash.SY2odyVN.dpuf

        hardened heart, anyone? very nice. very christian of you.

      • oldgeezer
        January 19, 2016, 10:37 am

        @yonah

        A horrific crime. No question about it. Two wrongs will never make a right.

        Anyone with any common sense has to question why the GoI encourages it’s civilians to break international law and participate in the brutal occupation and oppression of other people. Particularly families and children.

        And as horrific as it is, it is certainly no more horrific than the vastly larger number of Palestinian children murdered by the state of Israel. Children who aren’t there for any other reason than it is their land.

        All horrific crimes yonah. Citizens of Israel should be holding their government to account for the crimes it has committed and the death, and destruction, it has caused on both sides of the conflict.

      • Mooser
        January 19, 2016, 11:26 am

        “hardened heart, anyone? very nice. very christian of you.”

        “Yonah”, I don’t know what they told you in your religious education, but I was told, in no uncertain terms BEING JEWISH DOES NOT GIVE ME THE RIGHT TO STEAL ANYTHING!!! In fact, it might even obligate me to not stealing.
        Why is it ‘very Jewish’ to steal? Did I miss something at Hebrew School?

      • Kris
        January 19, 2016, 2:56 pm

        @yonah fredman: “very christian of you.”

        How is it “Christian” to understand the idea of cause and effect?

      • yonah fredman
        January 19, 2016, 11:07 pm

        kris- I would not call your comment “cause and effect”, I would call your comment moralizing and a tad blood thirsty. If you cannot tell the difference, then read what old geezer wrote here. did he deny cause and effect, yet he was not exalting with moralistic school teacher wagging finger, “you deserved to die, stupid guilty settler.” your moralism doesn’t abandon you, yet your common sense and humanity does.

      • Kris
        January 20, 2016, 12:54 am

        @yonah fredman: “did he deny cause and effect, yet he was not exalting with moralistic school teacher wagging finger, “you deserved to die, stupid guilty settler.” your moralism doesn’t abandon you, yet your common sense and humanity does. “

        I can’t discover where/how I was “exalting,” yonah. Please explain what you mean. And also why you put quotation marks around words that are not in my post.

        What meaning can we find in this young mother’s death? She was killed because she was participating in Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. She didn’t die in an accident, or from a sudden virulent illness. She died during the commission of a crime against humanity.

        Did she have to put herself in this position? No. Should she have put herself in this position? No, not according to international law or The Ten Commandments (is it “moralizing” to point this out?).

        Will this be the last pointless tragedy in aid of Israel’s ethnic cleansing? Sadly, no. I don’t understand how you think “common sense” and “humanity” are offended by pointing out how stupid and unnecessary this young mother’s death was, but then again, I don’t understand how you manage to think that the suffering of the Palestinians at Israeli Jewish hands for all these decades is somehow pleasing to the Lord. (Ooops–is it “moralizing” to mention God? I do it only because you claim to practice Judaism. Do you think only a freier (Yiddish for “sucker”) cares about such things?)

  11. echinococcus
    January 19, 2016, 6:33 am

    If he had a milligram of compassion or “heart”, Reb Fredman would be clamoring for the head of the Zionist entity government and its owners for deliberately putting at risk the invaders that they encourage to break the law. A totally uncontested law, by the way.
    No, he has to go after the messenger.

    • Mooser
      January 19, 2016, 12:35 pm

      “No, he has to go after the messenger.”

      I’m sorry.
      My little mind was blown by that “hardened heart, anyone? very nice. very christian of you “. Just for criticizing settlers. That “Yonah”, he ain’t got no trauma! He’s ready to take on the world! You got a problem with us?, Well, the problem is your insufficient Christianity, and this is Bishop “Yonah” sayin so! Indulgences will not be granted!

      How the hell did we raise a hothouse flower like “Yonah”? Has he ever been outside? Hydroponics, and artificial light, must be. No wait a minute, maybe he was raised on a regimen more suitable for basidiomycota…

      • yonah fredman
        January 19, 2016, 11:09 pm

        mooser- i wish it was possible to communicate with you. but it does not seem so.

      • Mooser
        January 20, 2016, 10:59 am

        “mooser- i wish it was possible to communicate with you. but it does not seem so.”

        No, I don’t speak saprophyte.

      • Mooser
        January 20, 2016, 5:08 pm

        ” i wish it was possible to communicate with you.”

        You tried One hundred and seventy four times!

      • yonah fredman
        January 21, 2016, 12:20 am

        “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” 45 years after cool hand luke and you are still using a literal interpretation for the word “communicate”?

  12. Mooser
    January 21, 2016, 3:45 pm

    “45 years after cool hand luke and you are still using a literal interpretation for the word “communicate”?”

    What’s your “interpretation” of the word? Are you implying some kind of threat? I’ve never seen that “cool hand luke” movie, did not consider it suitable movie for nice Jewish boy like me. Never, ever, could abide Eastman. Is he a particular hero of yours?

    You’re all pisk-malocheh, “Yonah”.

  13. Kathleen
    January 24, 2016, 9:11 pm

    “denied access to a lawyer” Horrible.

    SA bff with U.S.A

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