Artists and writers around the world released poems, drawings and other work on social media on Thursday, to draw attention to Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet who was sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes for alleged apostasy in Saudi Arabia.
Fayadh, a prominent artist and curator in Saudi Arabia, was first arrested in 2013 from a cafe in the southern city of Abha, where he resides.
He was released the next day but then rearrested in January 2014 and presented with list of blasphemy-related charges, including distributing a book of his poems that was alleged to promote atheism.
Fayadh is a second generation Palestinian refugee, a central theme in his poetry.
Fayadh has maintained that his arrest is the result of a personal dispute with Shaheen bin Ali Abu Mismar, the man who first accused him of apostasy.
“I am scared to be forgotten”
In March, The Guardian published a note Fayadh wrote to his friend from prison, in which he said he was in “good health and staying positive but I am alone.”
He told his friend, “I am scared to be forgotten.”
Marcia Lynx Qualey, editor of the website arablit.org, and Mona Kareem, a poet, journalist and translator, organized the “Day of Creativity” to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the signing of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Qualey told The Electronic Intifada that she hoped the Day of Creativity would “keep a light on a case that could easily be forgotten, one where attention might help Ashraf from being shuffled off into even worse conditions.”
“Of course the best possible outcome would be that continued attention, as well as efforts from his lawyers and support within Saudi Arabia, means that he gets a royal pardon and is deported from Saudi Arabia,” Qualey said.
Fayadh’s lawyer is waiting to appeal his case and ask for bail. According to Kareem, the original hearing for the appeal was cancelled.
Afraid of a poet
Ganzeer, the alias of Mohamed Fahmy, who currently resides in Los Angeles, California, told The Electronic Intifada that he contributed a portrait of Fayadh for the day because “Ashraf’s case demands a global upheaval.”
“This not only demonstrates the severe reign of authoritarianism of the Saudi regime,” Ganzeer said, “but its fragility as well. To be so afraid of a poet’s opinions that it needs to resort to such measures.”
Ganzeer also placed blame on the United Nations Human Rights Council, of which Saudi Arabia is a member.
Qualey and Kareem have also shared Fayadh’s poems that have been translated from Arabic to English and other authors’ poems that were inspired by Fayadh.
Kareem is currently translating a book of Fayadh’s poetry into English.