Imprisoned Palestinian Poet Ashraf Fayadh Wins PEN Canada One Humanity Award

Ashraf Fayadh

Imprisoned Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh wins PEN Canada One Humanity Award

Imprisoned Palestinian poet and visual artist Ashraf Fayadh will receive the PEN Canada One Humanity Award, October 20 at the International Festival of Authors.

Introduced in 2006, The One Humanity Award is presented by the members of PEN Canada to a writer whose work transcends the boundaries of national divides and inspires connections across cultures. Valued at $5,000 CAD, the award honours PEN’s commitment to literature as a common currency between nations, and as a catalyst for mutual understanding and respect.

The 2017 winner, Ashraf Fayadh, is a Palestinian refugee living in Saudi Arabia and the author of Instructions Within (2008), a poetry collection that comments on social issues in the Arab world. He is a key member of the Edge of Arabia, a British-Saudi arts community and digital platform that promotes dialogue and cultural exchange between the Middle East and western world.

“Behind Fayadh’s poems, there are stories that show the painful loss of freedom,” said Ashraf Zaghal, editor for Arabic poetry magazine, Laghoo. “His stories about freedom do not necessarily relate to the poet’s homeland but, rather, reach out to the human public sphere and the strife for the essential right to free speech and action.”

In the summer of 2014, Fayadh stood trial in Saudi Arabia on blasphemy related charges related to his poetry collection, which has since been banned from circulation. Saudi courts sentenced him to death in 2015 for the crime of being an infidel, but after international outcry, authorities commuted his sentence to eight years and 800 lashes. Fayadh remains in prison in Abha while he appeals his sentence.

“This award reminds Fayadh, his family, his supporters, and most importantly, his jailers, that his colleagues will continue to advocate for his right to freedom of expression until he is released,” said PEN Canada president, Richard Stursberg.

PEN Canada will present the award Friday, October 20, at their annual event at the International Festival of Authors. Entitled, Glorious and Free? Canada in 2017, the panel features Jesse Wente, Rachel Giese, Desmond Cole and moderator Jesse Brown in a discussion on Canadian freedoms.

The International Festival of Authors will also feature an empty chair on each stage to honour imprisoned Azeri writer and blogger, Rashad Ramazanov.

Background information:

In the summer of 2013 Fayadh was arrested in Abha, Southwest Saudi Arabia after a complaint to the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prohibition of Vice accused him of “misguided and misguiding thoughts”. The complaint is thought to originate from an argument with a man in a café, who then reported Fayadh to the religious police.

Fayadh was released, but re-arrested on January 1, 2014 on charges of illicit relations with women, and several blasphemy-related charges including insulting the Prophet Muhammad, spreading atheism, refuting the Quran, and insulting the King and the Kingdom. Evidence against Fayadh included poems from Instructions Within, which was later banned from circulation in Saudi Arabia, and photographs of Fayadh and female colleagues taken at an art exhibition.

Fayadh’s supporters believe that he may have been targeted in retribution for a video he posted of public lashings by religious police, and because of his status as a Palestinian refugee. Fayadh was born in Saudi Arabia to a stateless family. His only identification, issued by Egyptian authorities, was taken from him upon re-arrest. Saudi authorities subsequently denied Fayadh legal representation due to a lack of identification.

In June 2015, the General Court of Abha sentenced Fayadh to death by beheading for the crime of being an infidel. Fayadh’s father suffered a fatal stroke upon hearing the news. After international outcry, including a statement from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urging his release, Fayadh’s sentence was commuted to eight years in prison and 800 lashes. Fayadh is currently appealing this second sentence.

Fayadh is an honorary member of PEN Canada and German PEN.