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Despite international outrage, Saudi Arabia maintains it’s insistence that poet Fayadh remains classified as a criminal

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After 11 weeks since his death penalty sentence was issued for Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, the General Court in Abha issued the final appeal verdict. On the 2nd of February 2016, the Court issued a new decision to commutethe death sentence to a lesser sentence of eight years imprisonment,, 800 lashes (to be delievered as 50 lashes per flogging session), in addition to forcing him to declare his innocence, denounce his poetry declare his repentance infront the official media. Information on the new sentence comes from the statement issued by Fayadh’s lawyer in which he noted that the court declined the earlier verdict of death, despite the initial court finding ‘proof’ that Ashraf Fayyad acts deservedthe strict punishment associated with apostasy.

The lawyer spoke out against the new ruling and demanded his release asserting his innocence against all the charges against him.

Fayadh’s trial began on 12thFebruary 2014 and ended two months later on 3rd April 2014, during which he was sentenced four years in prison and 800 lashes. After more than 20 months since the issuance of the initial judgment, on 17th November 2015,anothercourt session was held and after receiving comments from the Court of Appeal, the judge sentenced Fayadhto death under the pretext of implementing the infidelity laws. This verdict came after a trial that lackedmany fundamental principles of a fair trial, in which he was prevented from his right to have access to a lawyer.

Ashraf Fayyad case symptomatic of multiple flaws within theSaudi Arabian justice system, in which the right to freedom of opinion and expression is regualrly supressed and violated, which resulted in severalcondemnatory international interventions on this issue. On the 3rd of December 2015, a group of United Nations special rapporteurs issued a statement calling on Saudi Arabia to stop the execution of Ashraf Fayyad, and a few days later on the 16th December 2015, this was followed by a statement in which eight United Nations experts warned of the increasing repression of freedoms in Saudi Arabia, demanding authorities implement safeguard measures to protect those accused, and also condemned the death judgment issued against Ashraf Fayyad.

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) would like to point out that that the courts decision requiring the accused to denounce his poetry and declare his reptenance publicly, confirms that this verdict is one which is based expression of his opinion. ESOHR, asserts that the verdict against the poet Ashraf Fayyad is in violation of international human rights treaties and provisions. Such treaties emphasizes protection for the right to life, freedom of thought, and religion, and guarantees the right to expression. ESOHR calls upon the Saudi authorities to immediately release the poet Fayadh and drop all charges against other detainees accused in cases related to freedom of expression.