Ishtiyaq Shukri on the Reduced Sentence and Flogging of Ashraf Fayadh

03 Feb 2016
Ishtiyaq Shukri

By Ishtiyaq Shukri

Like all those who campaigned against the death sentence handed down to the Palestinian poet, Ashraf Fayadh by a court in Saudi Arabia last year, I was at first relieved when I heard that the death sentence had been quashed. But my sense of relief was brief, dissipating instantly in the face of the reduced sentence of eight years in prison and 800 lashes. Who survives 800 lashes? The Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, sentenced to ten years and 1,000 lashes, thought it was a miracle he survived the first 50 lashes. Badawi remains in prison, where the remaining 950 lashes are still to be administered – 50 lashes, every Friday, for 19 weeks, once lashing resumes.

These punishments are protracted death sentences drawn out to extend over many years. They are cruel, horrific and unacceptable punishments, which detract from our shared humanity and diminish us all. I can’t recall feeling such relief and such dread so simultaneously and in such equal measure. In a single moment upon receiving the news of Fayadh’s reduced sentence, I inhaled hope but exhaled despair at the ordeal handed down to Fayadh. What conflicting emotions must Fayadh himself have felt? Where is the mercy in that?

The responsibility for such inhumanity as that, which faces Fayadh, rests primarily with Saudi Arabia, but not exclusively. Responsibility for such human rights abuses in the kingdom must also be placed with its allies and trading partners, amongst others, the United States, the United Kingdom and South Africa, which is actively stepping up trade ties with Saudi Arabia. It is time for all of them to rethink their positions, and to ask crucial moral questions about their continued allegiance with the kingdom.

Examples of Saudi hubris, excess and exceptionalism are mounting. The ongoing Saudi-led war in Yemen – being enabled with US and British weapons and military expertise – the mass executions of 47 people including Sheikh Nimr Al Nimr in Saudi Arabia last month, the ongoing detention of human rights activists like Raif Badawi in the kingdom, and now this inhumane revised punishment handed down to Fayadh, should serve as prompts for men and women of conscience around the world to reassess their ties with Saudi Arabia the brutal, Saudi Arabia the merciless. Where people of good conscience lead, corporations and governments must be made to follow.

Read PEN’s statement on Ashraf Fayadh’s reduced sentence here and listen to Ishtiyaq Shukri and other author’s readings in support of Ashraf Fayadh here.

(Image courtesy of Africa is a Country)