A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced the Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death for apostasy, abandoning his Muslim faith, according to trial documents seen by Human Rights Watch.
Ashraf Fayadh was detained by the country’s religious police in 2013 in Abha, in southwest Saudi Arabia, and then rearrested and tried in early 2014. The verdict of that court sentenced him to four years in prison and 800 lashes but after appeal another judge passed a death sentence on Fayadh three days ago.
Saudi Arabia’s justice system is based on Sharia Islamic law and its judges are clerics from the kingdom’s ultra conservative Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam. In the Wahhabi interpretation of Sharia, religious crimes including blasphemy and apostasy incur the death penalty.
In January liberal writer Raif Badawi was flogged 50 times after his sentencing to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for blasphemy last year, prompting an international outcry. Badawi remains in prison, but diplomats say he is unlikely to be flogged again. Saudi judges have extensive scope to impose sentences according to their own interpretation of Sharia law without reference to any previous cases.