Artists cast light on Palestinian poet jailed by Saudi Arabia

Ashraf Fayadh, 35, was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia on 17 November 2015. In February 2016 it was commuted to 8 years in prison and 800 lashes. (Instagram)

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.

Using the hashtag #FreeAshraf, artists including the Egyptian graphic novelist Ganzeer, the visual artist Joy Garnett and poet Rachel Rose shared their tributes to Fayadh on Twitter and Instagram.

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, 35, was first sentenced to death in November 2015. But following global outcry, a panel of judges commuted his sentence in February.

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, 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.




Can we send a postcard to him to help him to sustain this agony?
Is the Electronic Intifada able to submit the adress of the prison Fayadh is in ?
If so, I encourage every reader to send him a postcard with just a few lines. It will help Fayadh to live through this abyss of evil


We demand Ashraf's release, and the freedom of all whose crime is to search out the truth in their daily lives.

The growing affinity between Israel and Saudi Arabia illustrates a single attitude towards art- that which cannot serve the state's interest must be crushed. To do that, you must destroy the source, the artist. Israeli Ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Miri Regev have not contented themselves with spitting in the face of living poets such as Dareen Tatour. They have attacked the dead, in the person of the great Mahmoud Darwish. Tyrants perform these acts at their peril. In raising the hallowed dead once more to the eyes of the world, they expose the ghostly remains of their own rotten regimes.


I believe that the United States government and its administration, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current Secretary John Kerry, hold at least indirect responsibility for Ashraf's ongoing imprisonment. I do not know if there is or has been US State Department diplomatic pressure for his release. International indignation about the love affair between the US and the Saudi regime must nevertheless translate to action. Activists must take very seriously our internationalist responsibility to Ashraf and all struggling for justice in his country. If Clinton is elected, US relations with the Saudi regime must be on our agenda.

Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.