Over 500 poets and writers from around the world, including Adonis, Paul Muldoon, Charles Simić, John Ashbery, Ghassan Zaqtan, Golan Haji, Manal Al-Sheikh, Najwan Darwish, Ahmed Al-Mulla Mohamed Bennis, Amir Or, Ghayath Almadhoun, Carol Ann Duffy, George Szirtes, Simon Schama have joined English PEN and PEN International in calling for the immediate release of poet Ashraf Fayadh, sentenced to death for apostasy in Saudi Arabia. Fayadh has 30 days to appeal his sentence.
PEN has also been joined by more than 60 cultural and human rights organisations from across the globe in a letter to the Saudi authorities calling for the release of Fayadh and others detained in Saudi Arabia in violation of their right to freedom of expression.
Ashraf Fayadh, a poet, artist, curator, and member of British-Saudi art organisation Edge of Arabia, was first detained in August 2013 in relation to his collection of poems Instructions Within following the submission of a complaint to the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue. He was released on bail but rearrested in January 2014.
At Ashraf Fayadh’s retrial in November 2015 the judge reversed the previous ruling, declaring that repentance was not enough to avoid the death penalty. PEN believes that all charges against him should have been dropped entirely, and is appalled that Fayadh has instead been sentenced to death for apostasy.
The poets write:
We, poets and writers from around the world, are appalled that the Saudi Arabian authorities have sentenced Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death for apostasy.
It is not a crime to hold an idea, however unpopular, nor is it a crime to express opinion peacefully. Every individual has the freedom to believe or not believe. Freedom of conscience is an essential human right.
The death sentence against Fayadh is the latest example of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s lack of tolerance for freedom of expression and ongoing persecution of free thinkers.
We, Fayadh’s fellow poets and writers, urge the Saudi authorities to desist from punishing individuals for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and call for his immediate and unconditional release.
English PEN and our supporters delivered both statements to the Saudi Embassy in London on Friday 27 November, following a vigil for Ashraf Fayadh and two other cases of particular concern, liberal blogger Raif Badawi and his lawyer Waleed Abulkhair.