Imprisoned Palestinian Poet Ashraf Fayadh Wins PEN Canada One Humanity Award

PEN Canada announced yesterday that they had named Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, currently serving an eight-year and 800-lash prison sentence in Abha, Saudi Arabia — winner of the 2018 PEN Canada One Humanity Award:

The award is set to be presented, in absentia, on October 20 at Toronto’s International Festival of Authors.

The One Humanity Award, first presented in 2006, is for a writer “whose work transcends the boundaries of national divides and inspires connections across cultures,” according to a news release. The award, which provides the winner $5,000 CAD, “honours PEN’s commitment to literature as a common currency between nations, and as a catalyst for mutual understanding and respect.”

Fayadh, who is also a visual artist, released the collection Instructions Within in 2008. It was the summer of 2013 when he was first arrested, after a complaint was submitted to the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prohibition of Vice, thought to of originated because of an argument in a café, a moment beautifully imagined by playwright Hassan Abdulrazzak in “The Several Beheadings of Ashraf Fayadh.”

Fayadh was re-arrested on New Year’s Day, 2014 on charges that included the spread of atheism, insulting the King, and refuting the Qur’an, evidence of which was allegedly found in Instructions Within.

In the summer of 2015, Fayadh was sentenced to death by beheading, and this news caused his father to suffer a fatal stroke. After international outcry, Fayadh’s sentence was repealed and reissued as what it stands now: eight years in prison and 800 lashes. This sentence is under appeal.

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

The collection Instructions Within, trans. Mona Kareem, was longlisted for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award. It’s available from The Operating System, and an excerpt can be read on Word Without Borders.

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