The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) joins around 60 human rights organisations internationally, protesting the death sentence handed down last week to Ashraf Fayadh in Saudi Arabia.
Following an unfair trial during which he was denied access to a lawyer, Fayadh was variously accused of promoting atheism in his poetry, insulting the Prophet Muhammad, as well as “having long hair” and entering into illicit relationships with women (the evidence for which appears to have been nothing more than side-by-side photographs on his mobile phone with female friends or colleagues). He had also been linked to exposing brutality by the Saudi religious police. His death sentence is formally for “apostasy” (leaving Islam), which would be carried out by beheading by sword. His “repentance” has been rejected by the courts, but there should still be an opportunity to appeal the verdict.
The open letter to the Saudi authorities and full list of organizational signatories follows below.
His Excellency Shaykh Dr Mohammed bin Abdulkareem Al-Issa
Ministry of Justice,
Riyadh 11137 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: + 966 1 401 1741 + 966 11 402 0311
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