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Activists seek release of artist sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia

Activists have launched a campaign calling for the release of a poet and artist sentenced to death for apostasy by a court in Saudi Arabia.

Ashraf Fayadh, 35, who is of Palestinian descent and was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, was found guilty by a Saudi court last week of cursing God and atheism based in part on poems published several years ago. He is an artist and art curator who has overseen art shows in Saudi Arabia and Europe.

Fayadh’s supporters are appealing to the government of Saudi Arabia to free him.

“We, the undersigned writers, artists, journalists and academics strongly reject the trial of Palestinian poet Ashraf [Fayadh] over the publication of a collection of poems and sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia,” said the petition, which so far has collected more than 4,000 signatures, according to organizers of the campaign.

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Fayadh’s collection of Arabic poems, “Instructions Within,” was published by the Lebanese Dar al-Farabi publishing house in 2008.

“The poem was published in Beirut in 2008 and yet Fayadh is being tried on something published many years ago in a country other than Saudi Arabia,” said Palestinian journalist and writer Yousef Shayyeb. “This doesn’t make sense at all.”

Fayadh’s father, Abdul Satar Fayadh, told media that his son was arrested in August 2013 after he had a dispute at a coffee shop in the Saudi town Abha while watching a soccer game. Fayadh was told he and his family would get kicked out of Saudi Arabia, the father said.

He was released but rearrested in January 2014. He was sentenced in May 2014 by an Abha court to four years in prison and 800 lashes on morality charges. The sentence was later appealed and another court found Fayadh guilty of apostasy after he was accused of blasphemy and sentenced him to death. He has until mid-December to appeal.

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Murad Soudani, head of the Palestinian Writers Union, said in a statement that he was in contact with officials in Saudi Arabia to try to get Fayadh released.

“This narrow view of literature and creativity enhances intellectual darkness and does not contribute to the building of a civilized cultural society based on pluralism, which is the primary axis for the progress of nations and the building of their civilization,” said the petition. “We call for the immediate release of the poet Ashraf Fayadh and to stop this trial, to which its continuation and acceptance of its decision will only enhance anti-freedom and creativity values.”

Abukhater is a special correspondent.

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