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Saudi Arabia: Poet Sentenced to Death

(Dec. 7, 2015) On November 17, 2015, the Sharia General Court of Abha (a city in the southwest region of Saudi Arabia) found Ashraf Fayadh, a poet, guilty of blasphemy and apostasy. The Court sentenced him to the death penalty. (Angus McDowall, Saudi Arabian Court Sentences Palestinian Poet Ashraf Fayadh to Death for Apostasy, INDEPENDENT (Nov. 20, 2015).)

Background

In August 2013, members of Saudi Arabia’s Authority on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, known as “the religious police,” arrested Fayadh at a café in Abha. The arrest followed the receipt by the religious police of a complaint that Fayadh had made obscene comments about God and the Prophet Muhammad. The complaint also alleged that Fayadh passed around a book he wrote that was said to promote atheism. (Id.)

After his release in 2013, the Saudi authorities rearrested Fayadh in January 2014; the prosecution then charged him with an array of blasphemy and apostasy-related offenses, including blaspheming “the divine self” and the Prophet Muhammad; spreading atheism and promoting it among the youth in public places; mocking the verses of God and the prophets; refuting the Quran; denying the day of resurrection; and objecting to “fate and divine decrees” cited in Sunnah (speeches and actions of the Prophet) and Quranic texts. The lower court sentenced Fayadh to four years in prison and 800 lashes. (Saudi Arabia: Poet Sentenced to Death for Apostasy, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH (Nov. 23, 2015).)

The Recent Ruling and Its Aftermath

After the prosecution filed an appeal of the lower court’s ruling, the court of appeal passed the case back to the lower court, i.e., the Sharia General Court of Abha. The lower court repealed its previous ruling and sentenced Fayadh to death. His conviction was based on the testimony of a witness for the prosecution. (Id.)

Fayadh denies the charges and the allegations of the prosecution witness. He has stated that they are false accusations. His defense lawyer asked three witnesses to refute the testimony of the prosecution witness. Those witnesses also said before the court that they had never heard blasphemous statements from Fayadh and that his book, Instructions Within, consists of love poems and does not contain any insults to Islam or its symbols. During this last court hearing, Fayadh stated that he expresses his repentance for any content in the book that religious authorities may have considered inappropriate or offensive. (Id.)

In an incident related to the ruling, the Ministry of Justice of Saudi Arabia announced that it will sue a Twitter user who compared the court decision against Fayadh to the sentences granted by the courts of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). (Saudi Arabia to Sue Twitter User Who Called Poet’s Death Sentence “ISIS-Like, REUTERS (Nov. 25, 2015).)