Artists for Palestine UK, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, and the Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine call on our respective governments to take action in response to the news of the death sentence passed on Palestinian poet and curator Ashraf Fayadh – for being a poet and curator. Here is the text our joint letter:
Rt. Hon. Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Monsieur Laurent Fabius, Ministre des Affaires Étrangères
We are writing to you on behalf of our organisations – Artists for Palestine UK, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, and the Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine – to express our deep concern for the security and well-being of Ashraf Fayadh. We ask you to take up this issue as a matter of great urgency with the Saudi authorities.
Fayadh, 35 years old, a Palestinian poet and art curator, has been sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia, the country where he was born but where he does not have citizenship. His offence, such as it is, appears to be no more than to disturb the religious police by his work as poet and curator. As fellow artists and as academics, we wish to state in the strongest terms our support for Mr Fayadh, We can see no justifiable reason for his imprisonment, let alone the barbaric punishment with which he is threatened.
What is his supposed crime? The Guardian newspaper reports that he was first arrested in August 2013, on a complaint ‘that he was cursing against Allah and the prophet Muhammad, insulting Saudi Arabia and distributing a book of his poems that promoted atheism’. Fayadh said at the time that the complaint arose from ‘a personal dispute with another artist during a discussion about contemporary art in a cafe’. He was sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes; lost his appeal; was retried; and on Tuesday 17 November was sentenced to death. He could be beheaded as early as 17 December, when the appeal period expires.
According to Human Rights Watch ‘the trial records indicate clear due process violations, including charges that do not resemble recognisable crimes, and lack of access to legal assistance’.
Mr Fayadh is co-founder of the British-Saudi arts organisation, Edge of Arabia; his colleague, Stephen Stapleton, told The Guardian that Fayadh was ‘instrumental in introducing Saudi contemporary art to Britain. He curated a major show in Jeddah in 2013 and co-curated a show at the Venice Biennale later that year’.
As campaigners for the educational and cultural rights of Palestinians we call on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to set aside the decision of its court in Abha, and to free Ashraf Fayadh. The British government publicises its ‘bilateral relationship’ with Saudi Arabia in the field of culture. The French government, likewise, has spoken in terms of a ‘dynamic cultural co-operation’. We call on our governments to make crystal clear to the government of Saudi Arabia that this sentence outrages all civilised norms, and to use maximum diplomatic pressure to secure Fayadh’s release.
Ivar Ekeland, Président de l’Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine (AURDIP)
Jonathan Rosenhead, Chair, British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP)
Hilary Westlake, Chair, Artists for Palestine UK (APUK)