Ashraf Fayadh. FREE AT LAST!

by séamas carraher, global rights | 1st September 2022 4:13 pm

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 “…I am Hell’s experiment on planet


 The Hell that has been prepared for refugees”

Ashraf Fayadh

(from “Instructions Within”)[1]


ALQST[2], (the Organization for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia – based in London) reported[3] last Tuesday, 23 August 2022, that the Saudi authorities have finally released Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, imprisoned now for more than eight years for the religious crime of “apostasy”.


“Supporters of Fayadh say the charge of apostasy is a convenient red herring. The Saudi state declares itself over and over again as the ultimate authority on Islam. Claiming a mission that is divine, it places itself above the reproach of moralists and outside critics. Fayadh’s frequent references to Islam are often critiques of the Saudi state itself. His poetry, says (Mona) Kareem, is not a promotion of atheism, but rather an indictment of the way the Saudi government monopolizes interpretations of Islam to control its populace and squash dissent.” Tasbeh  Herwees[4] writes.

Fayadh, the author of Instructions Within (2008), which was good enough to earn him the original sentence of beheading in the Saudi Kingdom, “luckily” commuted to eight years and 800 lashes, had been arrested in late 2013 following a complaint which escalated into a religious trial – wherein his poems proved evidence of “apostasy”  (along with a long list of other “crimes” including ‘“denying the day of resurrection, “objecting to fate” and “divine decree” and “having an illicit relationship with women and storing their pictures in his phone”’)  – at the hands of a regime who can still sentence a young woman[5] to 34 years in prison for her use of Twitter[6]…

His sentence served (along with the barbarous 800 lashes[7]) and now almost a year late, the ALQST Organization released the good news for the poet…

…his family (minus his father, Abdul-Satar Fayadh, who suffered a fatal heart attack that his family believed[8] was caused by the shock of learning that his son had been sentenced to death) …


“I saw my father for the last time through thick glass

then he departed, for good.

Because of me, let’s say.

Let us say because he could not bear the thought

I’d die before him.

My father died and left death to besiege me

without it frightening me sufficiently.”

(Tense Times)

…and his many supporters and now readers (“Instructions Within” was translated into English by Mona Kareem and published[9] in 2016) across the world.

Still his release (apparently “due to the bureaucratic difficulty of releasing a Palestinian refugee back into Saudi society”) was almost a year – if not, in truth, a lifetime – late.

Not a great advertisement for Mohammed bin Salman’s modernisation of his monarchy[10] in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with its litany of ongoing human rights abuses; to say nothing of its “cruel and inhuman” forms of punishment.

The poet’s situation had been earlier summarised by another survivor of torture and imprisonment, the Moroccan writer of “The Rule of Barbarism”, Abdellatif Laabi[11]:


“It must be said that poets are not the only victims of intolerance and despotism. The recent beheadings of dozens in that country prove this. But through the simple fact of practicing their art, poets are among the most exposed to the vindictiveness of the authorities because they are free spirits whose word is itself a counter power. From its very origins until the present, Arabic poetry has included a great number of free and audacious spirits…”


The Facts

 Arrested in August 2013, after an unfriendly (“hostile”) acquaintance accused him of fomenting atheism and spreading blasphemous ideas. He was initially released but then imprisoned again in January 2014 and this time indicted for “apostasy”.  On November 17, 2015, Fayadh was sentenced to death[12] by beheading. Evidence against him included several poems from his 2008 book Instructions Within, Twitter posts, and conversations Fayadh apparently had in an Abha coffee shop, in which he was accused of having “promoted atheism”.

“His friends say the real reason for his persecution is that the religious police saw him as an easy target, a marginalised artist and a Palestinian, whose disappearance, they thought, would not arouse attention. What is certainly true is that artists have to tread a fine line in Saudi Arabia, where any questioning of religious or temporal authority poses a risk and has to be veiled in metaphors and symbolism.” (The Art Newspaper)[13]

In early 2016 his sentence was commuted[14] and despite ongoing calls for his release the poet has now served more than the full length of his sentence as a guest of the Saudi prison regime.


Free At Last!

“God is ours!

He made us out of mud

and for every illness he made a cure;

for the healthy he brought sickness


and for the joyful he made tears!

Wrap yourself with songs

and don’t get directly exposed to longing.”


(from “Instructions Within”)


It too often seems that we (the many nameless and now-obviously                   relatively-powerless inhabitants of this crisis-ridden planet) have little to celebrate these days – despite the visible opulence some of “us” swim in, here in the West.


All around us destruction grows, both in the (in)human heart and through our technology with its voracious appetite eating its way through everything that might sustain our children into an uncertain future.


Still, surrounded as we are by the growth of both powerful Corporations and Authoritarian Regimes (to say nothing of lunatic or corrupt generals and dictators) and the daily disappearance, murder, imprisonment and torture of our fellow humans:


… it seems this week we were to be given some good news…


…after years where many writers, poets, activists, human rights defenders and other organisations across the world struggled – with limited success –  to support the poet in the Saudi’s attempt to stifle this original and creative voice.


Lest we Forget


Why do we need to be reminded of this?


Quite simply, it seems to me from where I sit (at the edge of this Catastrophe called Humanity) that Forgetfulness – blind, implacable, careless Forgetfulness is the greatest weapon of those who would turn this tormented-planet into a “hell on earth”,  a cruel-twisted-playground for their distorted and twisted fantasies, of power, of cruelty, of greed and the enormous darkness they are able to create.


If we continue to forget  (ignore, deny, disappear) those who are hunted by these predators, no matter where, no matter by-now the ideology, no matter the culture or the context, then we might as well just turn the lights off and leave this too-often misery-laden planet to some other, hopefully less destructive, species?


“Don’t despair.

Take heart in the exile from which you are fleeing!

This is intensive training for the life in Hell

and its harsh conditions.

My god, is Hell somewhere on Earth?”

(from “Instructions Within”)


In conclusion, let it be noted, along with the small joy some of us will be experiencing at the release of this gifted writer  – it is also a time to remember the other writers, journalists, poets, artists and human rights defenders currently either disappeared or suffering in too many jails, in too many places – alongside all the nameless ones, not the well-known nor the writers nor poets with advocates, just those countless-ones victimised by these regimes-of-darkness-and-cruelty, in a world we should have banished, long ago, to the Dark Ages…


“stay away…stop gathering in front of cameras

we have work to do

to guarantee a better life

for humanity!”


séamas carraher


Thanks to Pina Piccolo at The Dreaming Machine[15] for altering us to Ashraf Fayadh’s release.



 Global Rights, to its credit, covered Ashraf Fayadh’s disappearance into the Hell of the Saudi prison system on a number of occasions:

4 June 2018[16]

12 December 2017[17]

25 January 2017[18]

20 September 2016[19]

28 July 2016[20]

14 July 2016[21]

3 March 2016[22]

29 February 2016[23]

3 February 2016[24]



Recent Summary of Ashraf Fayadh’s case (by Anna Somers Cocks)[25]

 LISTEN to: Shtiyaq Shukri reading an excerpt from “Frida Kahlo’s Mustache” by Ashraf Fayadh:

LISTEN to: Ashraf Fayadh, Letter to the Earth,  read by Pina Piccolo

OTHER poems by Ashraf Fayadh in translation can be found at[26]

Mona Kareem‘s translation of Ashraf Fayadh’s “Disputed” Poems: (these poems appeared in Fayadh’s poetry collection ‘Instructions Within’ which was published by the Beirut-based Dar al-Farabi in 2008 and later banned from distribution in Saudi Arabia.)[27]

Tense Times, a poem by Ashraf Fayadh[28]

A Hoarseness in the River’s Flow, a poem by Ashraf Fayadh [trans. Mona Kareem][29]

  1. (from “Instructions Within”):
  2. ALQST:
  3. reported:
  4. Tasbeh  Herwees:
  5. sentence a young woman:
  6. her use of Twitter:
  7. along with the barbarous 800 lashes:
  8. his family believed:
  9. published:
  10. monarchy:
  11. Abdellatif Laabi:
  12. sentenced to death:
  13. (The Art Newspaper):
  14. was commuted:
  15. The Dreaming Machine:

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