A Palestinian poet has been sentenced to death by a Saudi Arabian court for renouncing Islam and encouraging atheism.
Earlier this week a Saudi court ordered the execution of Ashraf Fayadh on charges of “doubting the existence of God.”
Human Rights Watch’s Middle East researcher Adam Coogle confirmed that the death sentence handed down to Fayadh was on charges of “apostasy” –
I have read the trial documents from the lower court verdict in 2014 and another one from 17 November. It is very clear he has been sentenced to death for apostasy.
The death sentence comes after an initial 2014 verdict that sentenced the poet to four years in prison and 800 lashes.
Speaking of his arrest, Fayadh, 35, a poet, an expressionist artist, and a key member of the British-Saudi art organisation Edge of Arabia, said:
They accused me [of] atheism and spreading some destructive thoughts into society.
However, at his trial Fayadh denied the accusations, telling the court he was a faithful Muslim:
I am repentant to God most high and am innocent of what appeared in my book mentioned in this case.
Fayadh said his book, Instructions Within, published in 2008, was “just about me being [a] Palestinian refugee … about cultural and philosophical issues. But the religious extremists explained it as destructive ideas against God.”
Fayadh’s supporters say his trouble began after posting a video online showing the Saudi religious police lashing a man in public.
Saudi Arabia has put to death nearly 150 people so far this year. The vast majority of death penalties handed down in the kingdom are for either non-violent drugs offences or murder, although there are exceptions.
Reuters reports Saudi Arabia’s justice system is based on Sharia Islamic law and its judges are clerics from the kingdom’s Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam. In the Wahhabi interpretation of Sharia, religious crimes including blasphemy and apostasy incur the death penalty.
In Saudi Arabia, women are second class citizens, treated more like children than adults. Women are required to dress in black from head to toe, and require permission from a male guardian to travel, work and/or marry.
Adding insult to injury, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which does not allow women to drive.
In addition to the abysmal treatment of women and homosexuals, Saudi Arabia is a place where migrant workers are routinely tortured and sexually abused, while young children are frequently imprisoned without trial and executed.
In Saudi Arabia, atheists are considered terrorists, and atheism is prosecuted as a crime, with lengthy prison sentences or death for anyone “calling for atheist thought” or “calling into question the fundamentals of Islam.”
In Saudi Arabia there is no political freedom, no religious freedom, no freedom of speech. It is, in fact, one of the most repressive regimes in the world, and an insult to human rights and human dignity.