Friday, 15 January 2016

Death From A Loving Religion.

         For centuries religions have persecuted those who would dare to disagree with their mythological fantasies. They have handed out horrific and barbaric punishments, from burning at the stake, to beheading, the cutting off of hands or feet, to other unbelievable tortures. We like to think that we live in an enlightened age, where we have tamed the beast of religious fundamentalism, but sadly the monster still stalks the earth. There are lands where the only law is the barbaric law of a so called loving good. In Saudi Arabia during 2015 there were at least 151 executions, the highest number since 1995, when there were 192. These executions can be for crimes as petty as drug use, in the case below, where a young man is facing the death penalty, it is for writing poetry. No matter what the poetry contains, what humane, sane individual, can say, hand on heart, the poet deserves to be executed? 
Free Ashraf, poet facing execution in Saudi Arabia
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       Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet and artist who lives in Saudi Arabia, has been sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’. The Saudi Arabian authorities claim that his poetry has questioned religion and spread atheism.
      Ashraf has committed no crime. He is a prisoner of conscience. Ask the Saudi Arabian authorities to free him now.
      Ashraf, a 35-year-old poet and artist, is sentenced to be executed by Saudi Arabian authorities for his art. On 17 November, the General Court in Abha, south-west Saudi Arabia, found Ashraf guilty of ‘apostasy’ – renouncing Islam – for his poetry and sentenced him to death.

Arrested for poetry and pictures on his phone

      Ashraf was initially arrested on 6 August 2013 following a complaint registered against him by another Saudi citizen, who said that the poet was promoting atheism and spreading blasphemous ideas among young people. Ashraf was released the following day, but then rearrested on 1 January 2014, when he was charged with apostasy – he had supposedly questioned religion and spread atheist thought with his poetry. He was at the same time charged with violating the country’s Anti-Cyber Crime Law for allegedly taking and storing photos of women on his phone.
      On 30 April 2014, Ashraf was sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes for the charges relating to images of women on his phone. The General Court accepted Ashraf’s apology for the charges of apostasy and found the punishment to be satisfactory.
     However, the court of appeal recommended that Ashraf should still be sentenced for apostasy, and his case was sent back to the General Court, which in turn sentenced him to death for apostasy.
     Throughout this whole process, Ashraf was denied access to a lawyer – a clear violation of international human rights law, as well as Saudi Arabia’s national laws.

A death sentence for ‘apostasy’

Apostasy (Riddah, in Arabic) is the renouncing of Islam. Saudi Arabia follows Sharia (Islamic) law, and ‘apostasy’ can be punishable by death. Yet ‘apostasy’ is not a crime – it is a violation of someone’s right to belief or choose our own religion. It should never incur punishment.
       In addition to that, the death penalty, according to international law, may only be used for the ‘most serious crimes’ (recently interpreted by UN experts to refer to ‘intentional killing’). Apostasy is not a crime at all, let alone a serious one.
       The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment – it violates our right to life and our right to be free from torture. At Amnesty, we believe the death penalty should never be used.

What we’re calling for

       Quite simply, we’re calling for Ashraf to be freed. He has committed no crime, and as such should not be imprisoned, let alone face execution. We’re asking the Saudi Arabian authorities to drop Ashraf’s conviction and all charges against him. We’re also asking for them to stop executing anyone for ‘apostasy’.
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