Poet reprieved from execution but still faces 800 lashes and long jail term

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A Saudi court has overturned the death sentence of a Palestinian poet accused of renouncing Islam, and imposed an eight-year prison term and 800 lashes instead. The decision by a panel of judges came after Ashraf Fayadh’s lawyer argued his conviction was seriously flawed because he was denied a fair trial, according to a report in the Guardian. In a briefing on the verdict, Abdulrahman al-Lahem said the judgment revoked the death sentence but upheld that the poet was guilty of apostasy.

Lahem said Fayadh had been sentenced instead to eight years in prison and 800 lashes, to be carried out on 16 occasions, He must also renounce his poetry on Saudi state media. Lahem  reaffirmed Fayadh’s innocence and announced they would launch an appeal and ask for bail.

The death sentence imposed in November resulted in a worldwide outcry, and hundreds of leading authors, artists and actors, including the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, appealed for his release. Readings of his poetry in support of his case took place in 44 countries last month.

Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said: “It is a relief that Ashraf Fayadh no longer faces execution, but this is a wholly disproportionate and shocking sentence. It will cause dismay around the world for all Ashraf’s many supporters. The charges against him should have been dropped and he should be a free man today. We will continue to campaign for his release.”

Fayadh has spent almost two years in prison in Abha, in the south-west of Saudi Arabia. The 35-year-old Palestinian refugee was detained by the mutaween (religious police) in 2013 following a complaint that he was cursing against Allah and the prophet Muhammad, insulting Saudi Arabia and distributing a book of his poems that promoted atheism. Fayadh said the complaint arose from a personal dispute during a discussion in a cafe in Abha.

He was released after a day but was arrested again on 1 January 2014. In May 2014 he was sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes by the general court in Abha. After his appeal was dismissed Fayadh was retried in November 2015 and sentenced to death by a new panel of judges, who ruled that his repentance did not prevent his execution.

Appeal documents submitted by his lawyer last month argued that Fayadh’s conviction was based on uncorroborated allegations and ignored evidence that he had a mental illness.

Fayadh’s father had a stroke after hearing his son was to be beheaded. Fayadh was unable to visit him before he died last month, nor was he allowed to attend his funeral.

In documents considered by the judges on Tuesday, Lahem argued that Fayadh’s initial arrest in 2013 was unlawful as it was not ordered by the state prosecution service. The allegation of apostasy was not corroborated by other evidence, which goes against the principles of sharia law, he argued.

* A poet and former political prisoner was due to take his seat in Myanmar’s new parliament this week. U Tin Thit narrowly defeated a powerful former general in the landslide victory last November by the National League for Democracy, the party led by the Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.  Mr Tin Thit, 49, who also goes by the name Yi Mon, was in medical school in 1988 when the country rose up against the military. He joined the campaign for democracy, and like thousands of other student activists he was locked up, spending seven years in jail.

He said voters had chosen him over the general because “human dignity had been lost for 50 years. They wanted it back.” There were more than 10 poets registered as candidates for the National League for Democracy, and there is a strong link between poetry and politics in Myanmar. During  five decades of military rule, the junta censored everything published in the country. “We had to write poetry to obscure the meaning of what we were saying,” Mr Tin Thit said.

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jeremy young

Wed 10th Feb 2016 03:05

I don't blame Laura

the world isn't always as we would like it


in neat parcels - for neat people to dismiss -


cognitive dissonance is often a comfort for those who wear badges

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Laura Taylor

Tue 9th Feb 2016 13:03


I've read and re-read your post several times now, and can safely say that my main reaction is one of bewilderment. It's like asking someone if they like jam and them replying "the earth is flat". I don't get it. Not only do I not get it, I am loath to turn this into some kind of surreal bunfight, so the only response I can offer now is to walk away and wish you well in your parallel universe.

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jeremy young

Tue 9th Feb 2016 03:17

hi laura

it's disrespectful because your logic is false

"and they follow a fundamentalist branch of Islam that is intricately linked to ISIS."

it's 'intricately linked' because it is mainstream islamic jurisprudence - I doubt you'll find anyone who has a serious and respectful opinion of islam that would argue that it is not

so the point is moot

yet consider what mr fayadh says

"look up to yourselves from the bottom of the river;
those of you on top should provide some pity for those underneath..
the displaced is helpless,
like blood that no one wants to buy in the oil market! "


you are inexperienced with Time
lacking rain drops
that could wash away all the remains of your past
and liberate you of what you had called piety..
of that heart.. capable of love,
of play,
and of intersecting with your obscene withdrawal from that flabby religion
from that fake Tanzeel
from gods that had lost their pride.."


"your mute blood will not speak up
as long as you pride yourself in death
as long as you keep announcing -secretly- that you have put your soul
at the hands of those who do not know much..

losing your soul will cost time,
much longer than what it takes to calm
your eyes that have cried tears of oil"


obviously one needs to consider the context of the unspoken history of the 'palestinians' - the inverted comma is deliberate - and of the way in which the 'palestinian' issue is used - none of which fits particularly neatly in narrow confines of media debate - hence why mr fayadh phrases his criticisms and accusations as he does - and why it is so important to the saudis that he renounce his poetry

none of it has anything to do with allies - or the implication that 'we' are colluding with terrorists - or that the saudis are no better than terrorists etc

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Laura Taylor

Mon 8th Feb 2016 11:24

I made the clarification as the Saudis are seen as our allies, and they follow a fundamentalist branch of Islam that is intricately linked to ISIS. How you managed to make the unfeasible jump to me disrespecting him I have no idea.

I've never liked words being put into my mouth so please don't do that.

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jeremy young

Sat 6th Feb 2016 00:16

I understand why you are annoyed Laura but I am confused by your declaration of clarity

you appear to believe that there is some version of islam is just like the quakers - and in doing so you disrespect the bravery of mr fayadh, in writing what he did - and the other poets imprisoned for writing in a similar candid fashion

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Laura Taylor

Fri 5th Feb 2016 10:24

Let's be clear about who is punishing him. The Saudis follow the ultra-conservative and brutally fundamentalist branch of Islam known as Wahhabism (and ISIS has definite roots in this branch of Islam). The imposition comes from them, our 'allies', the very same people who murder their citizens and use heinous punishments yet hold a chair on the UN Human Rights Council.

We should not be 'relieved' or happy that the death sentence has been commuted. This man has been accused and convicted in such a way that it even breaks with Sharia law. If he survives those 8 years in a Wahhabi institution, and the 800 lashes (50 on 16 separate occasions, using implements we have no knowledge of, and strength of blow that cannot be foreseen) it will be a miracle.

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M.C. Newberry

Thu 4th Feb 2016 16:17

A well timed comment, Ken.
The imposition of religious law has its origins in the
controlling abuse of the dignity of the human spirit and the
latter's unquenchable desire to seek advancement in the human condition via enlightenment and knowledge.
As I have remarked elsewhere: the sheep have wolves
for shepherds.

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ken eaton-dykes

Thu 4th Feb 2016 15:24

At some future period,
not very distant as measured
by centuries, the civilized races
of man will almost certainly
exterminate and replace
the savage races throughout
the World.

Charles Darwin.

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jeremy young

Tue 2nd Feb 2016 22:04

it's good news that the death sentence has been lifted

even if the remaining punishment is incredibly severe

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