An Award for Ashraf Fayadh

Last week, PEN International, in affiliation with Oxfam Novib, named Ashraf Fayadh and Malini Subramaniam co-winners of the annual Oxfam Novib/PEN International Free Expression Award. The two join fifty previous winners, including the late Hrant Dink of Turkey.

Ashraf Fayadh remains in prison in Saudi Arabia and was not able to attend the ceremony. He is a poet, an artist, who has faced an array of blasphemy-related charges in Saudi Arabia, from “insulting the divine self” to being an infidel.
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Speak Out for Ashraf Fayadh

In February 2016, a court in Abha, Saudi Arabia, announced that it had retracted its November 2015 death sentence for the poet Ashraf Fayadh and exchanged it for a sentence of eight years in prison and 800 lashes with a cane. He must also make a public statement of repentance.

This new sentence switched his conviction from one of apostasy, or renouncing his religion, to one of blasphemy, insulting that religion and its leaders.

Today, December 10, International Human Rights Day, a date celebrated by the United Nations and human rights organizations for decades. Artists and activists around the world are speaking out on behalf of Ashraf Fayadh by creating art, writing essays, joining a Tweetstorm, recording podcasts, and many other ways of showing support. The website “Arabic Literature (in English)” published a list of ten suggestions in a July post: “Make Noise & Beauty on July 28, a Day of Creativity for Ashraf Fayadh.” If you participate, please use the hashtag #FreeAshraf. Everything that follows below is my small contribution.
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July 28: Speak Out for Ashraf Fayadh

In February, a court in Abha, Saudi Arabia, announced that it had retracted its November 2015 death sentence for the poet Ashraf Fayadh and exchanged it for a sentence of eight years in prison and 800 lashes with a cane. He must also make a public statement of repentance.

This new sentence switched his conviction from one of apostasy, or renouncing his religion, to one of blasphemy, insulting that religion and its leaders.

On Thursday, July 28, artists and activists around the world will speak out on behalf of Ashraf Fayadh by creating art, writing essays, joining a Tweetstorm, recording podcasts, and many other ways of showing support in a “Day of Creativity.” The website “Arabic Literature (in English)” published a list of ten suggestions in a recent post: “Make Noise & Beauty on July 28, a Day of Creativity for Ashraf Fayadh.” If you participate, please use the hashtag #FreeAshraf. Everything that follows below is my small contribution.

The Operating System, a small press, will be publishing a volume of Fayadh’s poems entitled Instructions Within, translated by Mona Kareem.
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800 Lashes for Ashraf Fayadh

Earlier today, a court in Abha, Saudi Arabia, announced that it has retracted its November 2015 death sentence for the poet Ashraf Fayadh and exchanged it for a sentence of eight years in prison and 800 lashes with a cane. He must also make a public statement of repentance.

This new sentence appears to switch his conviction from one of apostasy, or renouncing his religion, to one of blasphemy, insulting that religion and its leaders. According to the web site Arabic Literature (in English), the charge of “inappropriate relations with the opposite gender” still stands. These “relations” were photos of Fayadh standing next to women in art galleries at exhibitions he curated. The photos were in his cell phone and on his Instagram account because they were appropriate, not salacious, and not worth noticing. In Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahhabi form of Islam, however, this is inappropriate contact with the opposite gender and worthy of legal remedy.
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A Reading for Ashraf Fayadh

At his retrial in November 2015, the court not only found him guilty a second time but decided to change his sentence from flogging to death by beheading. The poet Ashraf Fayadh, a stateless Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia, was arrested in January 2014 and charged with apostasy, with renouncing his religion. His poetry was put on trial. His life is at risk.

When a court appoints itself as a literary critic, both the judicial system it is a part of and literature are diminished.

Today, writers around the world are focusing attention on Ashraf Fayadh’s story: according to The Guardian, 122 events in 44 countries are being held in which Fayadh’s work will be read. It is being organized by the “International literature festival Berlin.”

Consider this column, with my recording down below, one more event.
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