[JURIST] A court in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday overturned a death sentence for an “apostate” poet who renounced the Muslim faith, giving him eight years in prison instead. The court quashed the previous court’s ruling [JURIST report] that poet Ashraf Fayadh was to be sentenced to death for, what human rights activist Mona Kareem states was posting a video online showing the Mutaween (religious police) lashing a man in public. Fayadh, who had no legal representation, was originally sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes, but this changed after another judge revised the sentence to death. Fayadh is required to repent [AP report] as well, with an announcement in the media in the future. The complaint against him had originally come from a “cultural discussion group” at a cafe in Abha.
Saudi Arabia’s justice system has drawn international criticism for alleged human rights abuses in recent months. Last month a well-known female human rights activist was detained [JURIST report] by government authorities in Saudi Arabia. Also last month Saudi Arabian officials announced that the government executed 47 prisoners convicted of terrorism charges [JURIST report], including al Qaeda detainees and a prominent Shiite cleric who rallied protesters against the government. In November Amnesty International reported [JURIST report] that Saudi Arabia has executed a record 151 people in 2015, the highest number since 1995. In 2014 the total number of executions carried out was 90. AI said that almost half of all the executions carried out in 2015 were for offenses that are not considered “most serious crimes” under the international human rights laws. Saudi Arabia also reportedly continues to impose the death sentence on individuals under the age of 18, violating child human rights laws. In September a group of UN human rights experts urged authorities [JURIST report] in Saudi Arabia to block the execution of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was convicted of involvement in the Arab Spring protests when he was 17.