(This article is published in Salon.)
Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to death by a Saudi Arabian court for renouncing Islam, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW Middle East researcher Adam Coogle told Reuters he has read the trial documents and it “is very clear he has been sentenced to death for apostasy.”
Fayadh was arrested by the Saudi monarchy’s religious police in 2013. In 2014, he was tried in court, and sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes. This verdict was appealed, and another judge ordered the ultimate punishment for Fayadh.
Reuters reports that the conviction was based on a witness who claimed he allegedly heard Fayadh cursing Islam and Saudi Arabia, as well as on a poetry book he wrote years ago.
Although an authoritarian theocratic absolute monarchy that bases its laws on an extreme interpretation of Sharia, Saudi Arabia is a close Western ally. In its fact sheet on U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, the State Department writes:
Saudi Arabia’s unique role in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its possession of the world’s largest reserves of oil, and its strategic location make its friendship important to the United States. The United States and Saudi Arabia share common concerns and consult closely on wide range of regional and global issues. As the region is going through a period of great transformation, the United States appreciates Saudi Arabia’s leadership in working toward a peaceful and prosperous future for the region. Saudi Arabia is also a strong partner in regional security and counterterrorism efforts, providing military, diplomatic, and financial cooperation. It works closely with U.S. law enforcement to safeguard both countries’ national security interests.