Saudi Arabia overturned the death sentence of Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, accused of apostasy and other blasphemy-related offenses which he denies, to eight years imprisonment and 800 lashes, announced his lawyer via Twitter today.
In a tweet, which had a press press release in Arabic attached to it, his lawyer Abdulrahman Al-Lahim said the court has revoked the death sentence, replacing it with the prison sentence and the public lashings, at the rate of 50 lashes per week, as well as enforcing Fayadh to renounce his poetry in Saudi official media:
الجديد في قضية #أشرف_فياض
الدائرة القضائية تُقرر الرجوع عن حكمها السابق وتصدر حكما جديدا
والتفاصيل في المرفق pic.twitter.com/slCRfw8QVf
— عبدالرحمن اللاحم (@allahim) February 2, 2016
The lawyer maintained that Fayadh was innocent and called for his immediate release from prison.
Fayadh, who was born and lives in Saudi Arabia, has curated art shows in Jeddah and at the Venice Biennale and has been a key leader of Edge of Arabia, a British-Saudi art organization. Fayadh was first detained in August 2013 in Abha, in South Western Saudi Arabia, by the country's religious police, also known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
The 35-year-old was released on bail only to be arrested again on January 1, 2014, when he was sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes. After his attorneys appealed, judicial authorities decided to re-try his case before a new panel of judges, who sentenced Fayadh to death in November 2015, on charges of promoting atheism in his 2008 poetry collection, Instructions Within.
According to Human Rights Watch:
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.
On Twitter, many continued to criticise Saudi Arabia and its human rights record, despite the reduction of Fayadh's sentence. Zena tweets:
A relief that #AshrafFayadh death sentence has been dropped. But 8 years & 800 lashes for no crime is not justice. pic.twitter.com/w7kCHycvFi
— Zena (@Zena__E) February 2, 2016
Bandar Almogtrb adds:
العدل هو الإفراج الفوري وتعويضه رداً للاعتبار لما جرى له ولعائلته بسبب هذا الظلم الذي وقع عليه!
— Bandar al-mogtrb (@1mogtrb) February 2, 2016
Justice is the immediate release of Ashraf Fayadh and compensating him for what has happened to him and his family from all this
And Naser Al-marshdi says its high time Saudi Arabia had a written law to avoid what he described as arbitrary rulings by judges:
قضية #أشرف_فياض دليل صارخ على أهمية “تدوين الأحكام”، الذي سيخرج الحكم القضائي من سلطة القاضي ومشاعره وانطباعاته واستنتاجاته الشخصية.
— N.AL-marshdi (@NaserAlmarshdi) February 2, 2016
Ashraf Fayadh's case is clear proof that there needs to be written laws which judges abide to and not base their rulings on their feelings and impressions and personal interpretations
Meanwhile, Shatha Nour is shocked anyone would celebrate this decision as a victory for Saudi justice:
متفاجئة للغاية من الذين يقولون يحيا العدل، أي عدل؟
عدل سجنه 8 سنوات؟
أم جلده 800 جلدة؟
هل هذا هو سقف عدالتكم؟
— شذى نـور (@shatha_writer) February 2, 2016
I am shocked with those celebrating Saudi justice. Is jailing him for eight years just? Or are the 800 lashes just? What justice are you talking about?