Free Ashraf Fayadh. Sentenced to Death for “Apostasy” from Islam.
Leading international cultural figures have joined human rights campaigners in calling for the release of Ashraf Fayadh, the Palestinian poet and artist facing execution in Saudi Arabia.
Chris Dercon, the director of Tate Modern, British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, historian Simon Schama, playwright David Hare, and Egyptian novelist and commentator Ahdaf Soueif are among the those calling for the death sentence imposed on Fayadh by a Saudi court last week to be overturned.
More than a dozen organisations for artists, writers, musicians and freedom of expression from the UK, North America and Africa – including Index on Censorship, literary association PEN International and the International Association of Art Critics – have also signed a joint statement condemning Fayadh’s conviction for renouncing Islam, a charge which he denies.
The statement, which will be delivered to the Saudi embassy in London by English PEN on Friday, says: “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.”
Amnesty International. Poet faces death for apostasy in Saudi Arabia: Ashraf Fayadh.
The trial documents, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, indicate that members of Saudi Arabia’s Committee on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or religious police, arrested Fayadh at a café in Abha, in southern Saudi Arabia, in August 2013. The religious police went to the café after a man reported that Fayadh had made obscene comments about God, the Prophet Muhammad, and the Saudi state. The man also alleged that Fayadh passed around a book he wrote that allegedly promoted atheism and unbelief.
After Fayadh was arrested, the court documents indicate, the religious police discovered on his phone photos of Fayadh with several women, whom Fayadh said he met at an art gallery.
The religious police held him for a day, then released him, but authorities re-arrested him on January 1, 2014. Prosecutors charged him with a host of blasphemy-related charges, 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; objecting to fate and divine decree; and having an illicit relationship with women and storing their pictures in his phone.
During the trial, which consisted of six hearings between February and May 2014, Fayadh denied the charges, and called three witnesses contesting the testimony of the man who reported him to the religious police. The defense witnesses said that the man reported Fayadh following a personal dispute, and that they had never heard blasphemous statements from Fayadh. Fayadh also said that his book, Instructions Within, published a decade before, consists of love poems and was not written with the intention of insulting religion.
During the last session, Fayadh expressed repentance for anything in the book that religious authorities may have deemed insulting, stating, according to trial documents, “I am repentant to God most high and I am innocent of what appeared in my book mentioned in this case.”
On May 26, 2014, the General Court of Abha convicted Fayadh and sentenced him to four years in prison and 800 lashes. The court rejected a prosecution request for a death sentence for apostasy due to trial testimony indicating “hostility” between Fayadh and the man who reported him, as well as Fayadh’s repentance.
The prosecutor appealed the ruling. Human Rights Watch was not able obtain a copy of the appeals ruling on the initial verdict, but the case was eventually sent back to the lower court. On November 17, 2015, a new judge with the General Court of Abha reversed the previous sentence and sentenced Fayadh to death for apostasy.
According to the judge’s ruling, he dismissed the testimony of the defense witnesses in the initial trial and ruled that Fayadh’s repentance was not enough to avoid the death sentence.
“Repentance is a work of the heart relevant to matter of the judiciary of the hereafter; it is not the focus of the earthly judiciary,” the ruling said.
The case moves next to the appeals court. The sentence must be approved by the appeals court and the Supreme Court.
Saudi Arabia has executed 152 people in 2015, which according to Amnesty International is the highest recordednumber since 1995. Most executions are carried out by beheading, sometimes in public. The vast majority are for murder and drug crimes, but Saudi courts occasionally hand down death sentences for other “crimes” such as apostasy and sorcery.
In February 2015, a Saudi court sentenced a Saudi man to death for apostasy for allegedly posting a video to YouTube showing him tearing pages of the Quran. A local activist associated with the case told Human Rights Watch that the man suffered from a mental disorder.
Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.
Saudi authorities regularly pursue charges against individuals based solely on their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, in violation of international human rights obligations. The Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Saudi Arabia has ratified, guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression under article 32.
“This death sentence against Fayadh is yet another indictment of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record,” Whitson said. “The Saudi authorities should immediately vacate this sentence and order Fayadh’s release.”
Apostasy in Islam (Wikipedia)
More than 20 Muslim nations have laws that declare apostasy by Muslims to be a crime, many imposing the death penalty for apostates. In addition, some Islamic countries without laws specifically addressing apostasy have prosecuted individuals or minorities for apostasy using broadly-defined blasphemy laws. In many nations, the Hisbah doctrine of Islam has traditionally allowed any Muslim to accuse another Muslim or ex-Muslim for beliefs that may harm Islamic society. This principle has been used in countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and others to bring blasphemy charges against apostates.
Saudi Arabia has no penal code, and defaults its law entirely to Sharia and its implementation to religious courts. The case law in Saudi Arabia, and consensus of its jurists is that Islamic law imposes the death penalty on apostates.
Apostasy law is actively enforced in Saudi Arabia. For example, Saudi authorities charged Hamza Kashgari, a Saudi writer, in 2012 with apostasy based on comments he made on Twitter. He fled to Malaysia, where he was arrested and then extradited on request by Saudi Arabia to face charges. Kashgari repented, upon which the courts ordered that he be placed in protective custody. Similarly, two Saudi Sunni Muslim citizens were arrested and charged with apostasy for adopting the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. As of May 2014, the two accused of apostasy had served two years in prison awaiting trial.
Saudi Arabia school textbooks include chapters with justification for the social exclusion and killing of apostates.
“An Apostate will be suppressed three days in prison in order that he may repent ….. otherwise, he should be killed, because he has changed his true religion, therefore, there is no use from his living, regardless of being a man or a woman, as Mohammed said: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him”, narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.”