GENEVA (3 December 2015) – United Nations human rights experts today urged the Government of Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of Ashraf Fayadh, artist and poet of Palestinian origin born in Saudi Arabia, condemned to death for apostasy. According to reports, he could be executed in mid-December.
Mr. Fayadh was sentenced to death on 17 November for the crime of ‘apostasy’, based on a collection of poems published in 2008 and the testimony of a single witness, who claims he had heard the poet make blasphemous comments at a cafe. The testimony had been initially discarded by the court, which deemed it as being motivated by the existing animosity between the witness and the accused.
The UN human rights experts also expressed their concern at the reports that Mr. Fayadh did not have legal counsel during the judicial proceedings, in violation of international law.
"It appears that Mr. Ashraf is about to be executed on the basis of seemingly unreliable evidence to the effect that he exercised his freedom of expression after an unfair trial. This has to be deplored as an arbitrary and thus unlawful execution," noted the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns.
"Sentencing a poet to death for his writings and alleged blasphemous comments is obviously unacceptable in accordance with any interpretation of human rights," said David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. "The promotion of such a violent response against a legitimate form of opinion and expression has a widespread chilling effect across all of Saudi society," continued Kaye.
The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, stated that "people should be able to express convictions, doubts and ideas without fear of persecution". He emphasized that "practice of religious belief can best flourish in a society that allows for freedom of expression."
"The death penalty imposed on Mr. Fayadh for his poetry is in violation of international human rights law and amounts to a grave violation of freedom of artistic expression," noted the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune.
"A person sentenced to death must also have the right to seek pardon or commutation of his sentence," the independent experts stressed.
The statement was also endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mónica Pinto.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
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Press release, published by the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner on 3 December 2015.
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