Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Palestinian poet sentenced to death for apostasy by Saudi court

A Saudi court sentenced Asharaf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet, to death for abandoning his Muslim faith, a form of apostasy punishable by death in Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries who implement Sharia law.
Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle reported on the sentence. Fayadh was first detained by the Saudi religious police in 2013 and rearrested and tried in the early part of 2014. At first a court sentenced him to four years in prison and 800 lashes, but after the sentence was appealed, another court sentenced him to death just three days ago.
The Saudi judicial system is based upon Sharia law with the judges being clerics from the Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam. In the groups' interpretation of Sharia law, religious crimes such as blasphemy and apostasy are punishable by death. This is an interpretation held by many Islamic scholars but not all. The issue is discussed at some length in the Wikipedia entry on apostasy in Islam. Other countries including Yemen, the UAE, and Afghanistan also have the death penalty as punishment for apostasy. Public support for the punishment varies from one Islamic country to another with Afghanistan having one of the highest levels of support.
In Saudi Arabia, liberal writer Raif Badawi was flogged 50 times after being sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for blasphemy. Although he remains in prison it appears that the international condemnation of the sentence has so far led to no repeat of the flogging. The judges need not sentence according to precedent but have leave to sentence according to their own interpretation of Sharia law. Hence Fayadh's first conviction was regarded as too lenient by the second cleric.
Sentences by lower courts can be heard by appeal courts and the supreme court. King Salman can pardon anyone. In Fayadh's case the lower court convicted him on the basis of a witness who claimed to have heard him cursing God, the Prophet Mohammad, and also Saudi Arabia. This last no doubt particularly irritates the monarchy. Evidence also came from a book he had written years ago. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower courts again to a different judge. That judge ruled out testimony from witnesses who had challenged the testimony of the prosecution witness. On November 17, he sentenced Fayadh to death.
Fayadh, 35, is a key member of the British-Saudi art organization. He has curated several art shows in Saudi Arabia. The recent death sentence was passed even though Fayadh repented. Often that would count to reduce the penalty. Fayadh told the Guaradian: “I was really shocked but it was expected, though I didn’t do anything that deserves death." Fayadh could still have his sentence changed by a higher court or be pardoned by King Salman.
Mona Kareem, an activist from Kuwait who leads a campaign for Fayadh's release, said the authorities promised Fayadh an appeal for years:“He was unable to assign a lawyer because his ID was confiscated when he was arrested [in January 2014]. 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.”
Some of the poet's friends think that he is being severely punished because he posted on line a video showing the Saudi religious police lashing a man in public. The most one can expect from western leaders in response to this travesty of justice is a bit of a moral tongue-lashing. Arms shipments to the Saudis will continue as usual but at a quicker pace,as supplies have been used up in Saudi bombing, mostly in Yemen. The appended video shows the religious police busy forcing a woman to leave a mall because she has no gloves on.


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