Saudi court sentences Palestinian poet to death: HRW

RIYADH: A Saudi court has sentenced a Palestinian poet to death allegedly for abandoning his faith according to trial documents seen by Human Rights Watch, its Middle East researcher Adam Coogle said on Friday.

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 court sentenced Fayadh to four years in prison and 800 lashes but after appeal another judge passed a death sentence on Fayadh three days ago, said Coogle.

“I have read the trial documents from the lower court verdict in 2014 and another one from November 17. It is very clear he has been sentenced to death for apostasy,” Coogle said.

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.

After a case has been heard by lower courts, appeal courts and the supreme court, a convicted defendant can be pardoned by King Salman.

Fayadh’s conviction was based on evidence from a prosecution witness who claimed to have heard him utter blasphemous words, and the contents of a poetry book he had written years earlier.

The case went to the Saudi appeals court and was then returned to the lower court, where a different judge on November 17 increased the sentence to death. The second judge ruled defense witnesses who had challenged the prosecution witness’ testimony ineligible.

Saudi Arabia’s Justice Ministry or other officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

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