Saudia Arabia imposes death sentence on Palestinian poet
A court in Saudi Arabia this week sentenced Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, above, to death for renouncing his religious faith.
Middle East Eye reports that Fayadh, 50, was handed the sentence on Tuesday for “doubting the existence of God”.
Ashraf Fayadh was first arrested by religious police in 2013 after a reader complained that one of his books, his 2008 poetry collection Inner Teachings, could encourage people to renounce Islam.
Fayadh, who was born to Palestinian parents but grew up in the Gulf kingdom, was released due to lack of evidence, but was rearrested in January 2014 in the southwestern city of Abha.
He was arrested in a coffee shop after watching a game of football, and was threatened with being deported to Gaza, his father told France24 at the time.
Fayadh was initially sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes, but an appeal judge this week increased the sentence, handing down the death penalty.
The exact charges under which Fayadh was initially held were not made clear, although some have suggested that his arrest was linked to his publication of a video showing religious police in Abha beating a young man in public.
The arrest of Fayadh, also an expressionist artist who has shown his work in government-sponsored exhibitions, sparked anger last year, with hundreds of artists and writers signing a petition calling for his release.
Following news of the death sentence against Fayadh, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information put out an urgent call for charges against him to be dropped.
Saudi Arabia, which gained a seat on the UN Human Rights Council with the support of the British government, has put to death nearly 150 people so far this year, the highest figure in two decades. Most people are executed by beheading with a sword, a method Saudi authorities say is more humane than other alternatives.