01/15/2016, 00.00
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Ramallah: intellectual stand up for Ashraf Fayadh, sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia

On death row for apostasy, the 35-year-old poet could be beheaded. Next week, a panel of judges is expected to review his case. His works will be read in 42 countries as part of campaign designed to secure his release. Artists and intellectuals speak out on his behalf.

Ramallah (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Palestinian intellectuals and writers gathered yesterday in Ramallah to read poems and call for the release of Palestinian artist, curator, and poet Ashraf Fayadh, 35, who was convicted and sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.

For fellow Palestinian poet Mahmoud Abu Hashhash, no poet "should be punished for his creation" but awarded for his art.

Thursday's readings in the city of Ramallah were part of a campaign launched by the International Literature Festival in Berlin for works of Ashraf Fayadh to be read in 42 countries to press that his life be spared.

Fayadh’s family is originally from Gaza, but he was born in Saudi Arabia and has been living and working in the southwestern Saudi city of Abha

Human Rights Watch said that Fayadh was convicted and sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy, spreading atheism spread and illicit relations with some women, whom he photographed with his mobile phone.

He is expected to be executed by beheading. According to some sources, a panel of judges is set to

For the Saudi authorities he is also guilty of "apostasy”, i.e. renouncing the Muslim faith. During his trial, he was denied legal counsel in violation of international and Saudi law. 

The reasons for Fayadh’s arrest and imprisonment are contested, emanating from a personal dispute with another artist, which escalated into the larger accusation of apostasy and blasphemy, including by the Saudi religious police.

In February 2014, one hundred Arab intellectuals demanded his release from Saudi prison. The PEN American Center sent a letter to President Obama in December 2015 calling on him to press Saudi Arabia’s ruler, King Salman, to release Fayadh.

Last year, Saudi Arabia executed more than 150 people. earlier this month, Saudi authorities executed 47 people accused of "terrorism,” including Shia leader Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an important Saudi dissident, whose death led to a row between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, possibly aggravating tensions in the Middle East.

For years, major human rights organisations and many Western governments have been trying to get Wahhabi-ruled Saudi Arabia to implement fairer trial procedures and more humane executions.

Saudi Arabia, which enforces strict Islamic law (Sharia), is the only country in the world where the death penalty entails public beheading.

Capital punishment is imposed on those found guilty of murder, armed robbery, rape, drug trafficking, as well as witchcraft and sodomy.

Lesser felonies, like theft or opinion-related offences, in addition to jail time, can be punished by amputation of the hand or public flogging.

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