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.