Ashraf Fayadh was first detained by the country’s religious police in 2013 and then rearrested and tried in May 2014.
The court sentenced him to four years in prison and 800 lashes, but an appeal saw a different judge pass a death sentence on Fayadh three days ago, Reuters reports.
Adam Coogle, the Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch told the agency: “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.”
Fayadh’s conviction is based on a complaints about his 2008 poetry collection Instructions Within and from a prosecution witness who claimed to have heard him cursing God, Islam’s Prophet Mohammad and Saudi Arabia, which is a Gulf Kingdom governed by Sharia law.
Fayadh, who has curated art shows in Jeddah and at the Venice Biennale told the Guardian the complaint arose from a personal dispute with another artist about contemporary art in a café in Abha.
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He told the newspaper: “They accused me [of] atheism and spreading some destructive thoughts into society.”
Of his poetry book he said it was: “Just about me being [a] Palestinian refugee … about cultural and philosophical issues. But the religious extremists explained it as destructive ideas against God.”
He added: “I was really shocked but it was expected, though I didn’t do anything that deserves death.”
Journalist activist Mona Kareem has been leading a campaign to free Fayadh, who has no legal representation and just 30 days to appeal his sentence.
She tweeted Fayahd has been tried “with fabricated evidence and testimonies”.
Ashraf was no prophet of atheism, he wrote his poetry & did his art, but as a vulnerable expat in kSA, he was an easy target 4 moral police— Mona Kareem (@monakareem) November 19, 2015
Please help Ashraf. They cannot execute a poet. Especially one who tells you he does not care to challenge ur holy beliefs #freeAshraf— Mona Kareem (@monakareem) November 19, 2015
A blog by Brian Whitaker published on Al Abab adds: “Fayadh is also said to have angered the religious authorities by having long hair, smoking, and filming the public flogging of a young man in Abha.”
An online petition is calling for Fayadh to be freed.
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