On 17 November, the General Court in Abha, southwest Saudi Arabia,
found Ashraf guilty of ‘apostasy’ – renouncing Islam – for his poetry
and sentenced him to death.
|Ashraf Fayadh with art historian Chris Dercon|
Arrested for poetry and pictures on his phone
Ashraf was initially arrested on 6 August 2013 following a complaint
registered against him by another Saudi citizen, who said that the poet
was promoting atheism and spreading blasphemous ideas among young
people. Ashraf was released the following day, but then rearrested on 1
January 2014, when he was charged with apostasy – he had supposedly
questioned religion and spread atheist thought with his poetry. He was
at the same time charged with violating the country’s Anti-Cyber Crime
Law for allegedly taking and storing photos of women on his phone.
On 30 April 2014, Ashraf was sentenced to four years in prison and
800 lashes for the charges relating to images of women on his phone. The
General Court accepted Ashraf’s apology for the charges of apostasy and
found the punishment to be satisfactory.
However, the court of appeal recommended that Ashraf should still be
sentenced for apostasy, and his case was sent back to the General Court,
which in turn sentenced him to death for apostasy.
Throughout this whole process, Ashraf was denied access to a lawyer –
a clear violation of international human rights law, as well as Saudi
Arabia’s national laws.
A death sentence for ‘apostasy’
Apostasy (Riddah, in Arabic) is the renouncing of Islam.
Saudi Arabia follows Sharia (Islamic) law, and ‘apostasy’ can be punishable by death.
Yet ‘apostasy’ is not a crime – it is a violation of someone’s right
to belief or choose our own religion. It should never incur punishment.
In addition to that, the death penalty, according to international
law, may only be used for the ‘most serious crimes’ (recently
interpreted by UN experts to refer to ‘intentional killing’). Apostasy
is not a crime at all, let alone a serious one.
The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment – it
violates our right to life and our right to be free from torture. At
Amnesty, we believe the death penalty should never be used.
What we’re calling for
Quite simply, we’re calling for Ashraf to be freed. He has committed
no crime, and as such should not be imprisoned, let alone face
We’re asking the Saudi Arabian authorities to drop Ashraf’s
conviction and all charges against him. We’re also asking for them to
stop executing anyone for ‘apostasy’.