Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia last week.
Fayadh is a member of Edge of Arabia, a British Saudi art organization which organised itinerant shows around the world, including two Collateral Events of the Venice Biennale in 2011 and 2013. My Art Guides team has worked on both exhibitions, including the 2013 one, Rhizoma, which was indeed curated by Ashraf Fayad and Sara Raza.
He was first arrested at the beginning of 2014 accused of having promoted atheism in a book of his poems he had published back in 2008: Instruction Within. After his arrest he was sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes. The appeal was passed to a different judge and Fayadh was sentenced to death last week, he has now thirty days to appeal to the death sentence. Mona Kareem, poet and activist, told the press that Fayadh has been denied the right to request a lawyer, being left without his documents since the day of his arrest.
Fayadh’s supporters believe he is being punished for a video he posted online, it was showing the religious police lashing a man in public in Abha.
In addition to this the court documents also report that Farad admitted he had relationships with women, whose photos had been found on his phone and Instagram account, the women however were just fellow artists and the photos were taken during the Jeddah Art Week.
“I was really shocked,” stated Fayadh of the new verdict, “but it was expected, though I didn’t do anything that deserves death.”
Stephen Stapleton, founder of Edge of Arabia stated “He was instrumental to introducing Saudi contemporary art to Britain and connecting Tate Modern to the emerging scene, I’ve known him since 2003. He’s a truly wonderful, kind person. He’s an intellectual and creative but he’s not an atheist.”
Ahmed Mater, artist and co-founder of Edge of Arabia, who also testified in court during Fayadh’s first stated“Ashraf is well known in Abha and the whole of Saudi Arabia. We are all praying for his release.”
- Ashraf Fayadh with Chris Dercon during Jeddah art week. Photo: Ashraf Fayadh, via Instagram.
- Ashraf Fayadh during Jeddah Art Week. This photo myght have been used as an evidence against him. Photo: Ashraf Fayadh, via Instagram.