A poet sentenced to death after he was accused of promoting atheism has been released from a Saudi Arabian jail.
Ashraf Fayadh, 42, is a Palestinian poet, artist, curator and refugee living in Saudi Arabia whose original ruling – a four-year prison term along with 800 lashes – was overturned and replaced with a death sentence by the General Court in the city of Abha in Saudi Arabia in 2015.
On appeal, his sentence was commuted to eight years in prison and 800 lashes.
The poet was accused of promoting atheism in his 2008 book ‘Instructions From Within’ and was charged with apostasy in 2014, which is loosely defined as the act of renouncing or failing to recognise a religious faith, a charge that Fayadh denied.
This was after he was arrested in January 2014 after being accused of making blasphemous comments by a Saudi citizen he had had an argument with in a cafe, according to Amnesty International.
Fayadh was also charged with violating an anti-cybercrime law after taking pictures of women with his phone.
The poet has now been released by the Saudi authorities after eight years in jail, according to a Twitter post from the Organization for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (ALQST) on Tuesday, 23rd August.
In 2016, Barack Obama, David Cameron and the German foreign ministry were called to intervene in the case in a joint letter signed by Nobel laureates including Mario Vargas Llosa.
In the same year, a worldwide reading of Fayadh’s poetry took place in 44 countries as part of a campaign that called on the governments in the UK and the US to persuade Saudi Arabia to improve on its human rights record.
Writers such as Ruth Padel and ‘Trainspotting’ author Irvine Welsh participated in the readings while the UN demanded Fayadh’s execution be called off by the Saudi authorities, who they considered were violating the poet’s freedom of expression.
Saudi Arabia enforces capital punishment and has executed 120 people so far this year, according to data obtained from the Interior Ministry.
Other works by the recently released poet include ‘The Last of the Line of Refugee Descendants’ and a piece entitled ‘Frida Kahlo’s Moustache’.