A Palestinian poet in Saudi Arabia who was sentenced to death for writing poems and allegedly renouncing Islam has had his punishment reduced. The more lenient sentence, however, amounts to what many still consider cruel and unusual punishment for exercising non-violent speech; the writer now faces eight years in prison and 800 lashes over 16 sessions.
Ashraf Fayadh’s troubles with the Saudi government began after he had a personal dispute with an individual in the southwestern city of Abha in 2013. That person, Shaheen bin Ali Abu Mismar, reported him to authorities, alleging “he was cursing against Allah and the prophet Muhammad, insulting Saudi Arabia and distributing a book of his poems that promoted atheism,” the Guardian explained. Fayadh’s book was filled with love poems that describe his experience as a refugee from Palestine.
He was also accused of having photographs on his phone of women he met at an art show. Fayadh was detained by the country’s religious police, the mutaween, and released after a day. He was arrested again on January 1, 2014, and detained for 27 days before being transferred to a local prison.
Fayadh was charged with apostasy, but some of his supporters believe the charges were an act of revenge by the country’s religious police because he posted a video of a public flogging online.