Ashraf Fayadh Wins 2017 Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression

PEN International yesterday announced two winners of its 2017 Oxfam Novib/PEN Awards for Freedom of Expression: stateless Palestinian-Saudi poet Ashraf Fayadh (of Palestinian heritage, raised in Saudi), serving eight years and 800 lashes in prison, and Indian journalist Malini Subramanian:

Image from PEN International.
Image from PEN International.

According to organizers, the award exists “to honour the courage of writers committed to freedom of expression despite facing countless challenges and risks.”

PEN International executive director Carles Torner said, in a prepared statement: “This award is not only our way of honouring courageous writers and journalists who continue to fight for freedom of expression at great personal risk, it is also a way of telling those who seek to silence them that the world is watching.”

Fayadh, an acclaimed poet and artist of Palestinian heritage, was initially arrested in Saudi Arabia the summer of 2013, accused of “misguided and misguiding thoughts” after a man submitted a complaint againt him. Fayadh was re-arrested on the first of January, the following year, and has been held in prison in Abha, Saudi Arabia, ever since.

During his first trial, he was accused both of insulting the King and and spreading atheism, and his poetry collection Instructions Within, which has been translated into English by poet Mona Kareem and into French by poet Abdellatif Laabi, was used as evidence.

In November 2015, Fayadh was sentenced to death. After a great international outcry, in February 2016, a Saudi court changed to a lesser sentence, of eight years and 800 lashes.  This ruling is currently being appealed.