Poet 'sentenced to death' in Saudi Arabia

Ashraf Fayyad (left): his ideas "do not suit Saudi society"

Ashraf Fayyad, a Palestinian poet and artist incarcerated in Saudi Arabia for the last two years, has now been sentenced to death for "questioning the Divine Self" (i.e. God), according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

Fayyad, who was born in Saudi Arabia and whose family have lived in the kingdom for 50 years, seems to have come to the attention of the Saudi religious authorities in 2013 after curating an underground art exhbition in Jeddah and co-curating another exhibition at the Venice Biennale.

In 2013 he was briefly detained on suspicion of having "misguided and misguiding thoughts" after a Saudi citizen complained about him to the religious police. He was then re-arrested on January 1, 2014.

The exact nature of his "crime" is unclear but the ArabLit website says he is accused of having "ideas that do not suit the Saudi society", based on a reader's complaint about his 2008 poetry collection, Instructions Within. (A translated poem from the collection can be found here.)

Fayyad 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.

Another possible factor, according to John Lubbock in an article for Vice, is that he had been trying to open up a dialogue with hardline religious elements "to explain art and contemporary art, and the ideas behind it". 

The article adds: "Some of the country's powerful religious authorities seem to have taken a dislike to Ashraf's progressive proselytising, presumably because it's almost directly opposed to their fundamentalist conservative proselytising – something they're keen on exporting worldwide."
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Friday, 20 November 2015