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Saudi Arabia overturns Palestinian poet's death sentence

Ashraf Fayadh had initially been sentenced to death in 2014 for apostasy
Ashraf Fayadh, in an undated photo posted on his Instagram account (Ashraf Fayadh/Instagram)

Saudi Arabia overturned the death sentence of Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh on Tuesday, although he will still face eight years in jail and 800 lashes.

A panel of judges came to the decision after Fayadh’s lawyer argued that his client had been denied a fair trial.  

Fayadh's lawyer posted a document on Twitter on Tuesday showing the new sentence reached by the judges:


Though campaigners welcomed the decision, many protested the still harsh punishment, despite the fact that Fayadh's lawyer maintains his client's innocence. 

“Instead of beheading Ashraf Fayadh, a Saudi court has ordered a lengthy imprisonment and flogging," said Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch

"No one should face arrest for peacefully expressing opinions, much less corporal punishment and prison. Saudi justice officials must urgently intervene to vacate this unjust sentence.”

Fayadh had been sentenced to be executed on the charge of apostasy and “spreading atheism” in 2014 by Saudi Arabia’s General Court after the court of appeal overturned an initial dismissal of the case.

He was also charged with violating the country’s Anti-Cyber Crime Law for allegedly taking and storing photos of women on his phone.

However, some of his supporters have argued that he was punished for posting a video online showing police in the south-western city of Abha lashing a man in public.

Campaigners had long protested that Fayadh had not received a fair hearing under the Saudi justice system.

“For one and a half years, they promised him an appeal and kept intimidating him that there’s new evidence,” said Mona Kareem, a migrant rights activist from Kuwait.

“He was unable to assign a lawyer because his ID was confiscated when he was arrested. Then they said you must have a retrial and we’ll change the prosecutor and the judges. The new judge didn’t even talk to him, he just made the verdict.”

As a poet and artist, Fayadh - who was born in Saudi Arabia - has played a major role in bringing Saudi art to a wider audience, including as part of the Saudi-British collaborative project Edge of Arabia.