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Saudi Arabia Sentences Poet to Death for Atheism

A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced poet Ashraf Fayadh to death for atheism and renouncing Islam--despite Fayadh's claims that he is a faithful Muslim. Fayadh thinks he is being targeted due to his longer hair and because he shared a video showing the country's religious police beating a man in public.


Fayadh is a Palestinian refugee who has lived in Saudi Arabia for years. He was first accused of blasphemy in 2013, and he was sentenced to public lashings and four years in prison in May 2014. He appealed this sentence, was retried, and was then sentenced to death. He was not permitted to have legal representation during his appeal.

From The Guardian:

The religious police first detained Fayadh in August 2013 after receiving a complaint that he was cursing against Allah and the prophet Muhammad, insulting Saudi Arabia and distributing a book of his poems that promoted atheism. Fayadh said the complaint arose from a personal dispute with another artist during a discussion about contemporary art in a cafe in Abha.

He was released on bail after one day but the police arrested him again on 1 January 2014, confiscating his ID and detaining him at a police station until he was transferred to the local prison 27 days later. According to Fayadh’s friends, when the police failed to prove that his poetry was atheist propaganda, they began berating him for smoking and having long hair.

“They accused me [of] atheism and spreading some destructive thoughts into society,” said Fayadh. He added that the book, Instructions Within, published in 2008, was “just about me being [a] Palestinian refugee … about cultural and philosophical issues. But the religious extremists explained it as destructive ideas against God.”

The case went to trial in February 2014 when the complainant and two members of the religious police told the court that Fayadh had publicly blasphemed, promoted atheism to young people and conducted illicit relationships with women and stored some of their photographs on his mobile phone.

Fayadh denied the accusations of blasphemy and told the court he was a faithful Muslim. According to the court documents, he said: “I am repentant to God most high and am innocent of what appeared in my book mentioned in this case.”


This is absolutely horrific. Nobody should be sentenced to die for belief--or suspected unbelief--in a religion. It's also absurd that Fayadh was denied a lawyer at his appeal because his national ID card was confiscated when he was arrested again in January of 2014. These are basic human rights that are being trampled upon by Saudi Arabia.

Religious freedom is a basic right. Stories like these make me even more grateful to live in the United States. "Possible atheism" should not be a death sentence.


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