Agnes Scott College will host a reading on Thursday evening, Jan. 14, beginning at 6 to protest the death sentence of poet Ashraf Fayadh. The reading is organized by English and Creative Writing Professor Dr. Waqas Khwaja. Khwaja guested edited the Spring 2014 issue of The Atlanta Review on Pakistan and is the author of three books of poetry, No One Waits for the Train, Six Geese from a Tomb at Medum, and Mariam’s Lament.
INtown asked Dr. Khwaja about the poet and the organization sponsoring the event.
Tell us about Ashraf Fayadh. What is he accused of and why has he been condemned to death?
Ashraf Fayadh was born in Saudi Arabia to a Palestinian refugee family and has lived most of his life in the southwestern Saudi city of Abha, where he was a prominent member of the small and burgeoning artistic community before he was arrested for blasphemy in late 2013 after an argument with a local man over a game of soccer. Though released without being charged at the time, he was picked up again in January 2014 on accusations of blasphemy and illicit relations with women. A poet and artist, he now stands convicted of spreading atheism (through his poetry), immoral behavior (illicit relationships with women) and apostasy and has been sentenced to death by a Saudi court in Abha. During his trial he was unable to obtain legal representation since his identification papers had been impounded by Saudi authorities. Having been born to a “stateless” Palestinian family, Ashraf Fayad was considered “stateless” himself, his only documents of identification being those issued by the Egyptian government. When these were taken away from him, it was as if he was no longer recognized in laws as a person, and thus unable to have legal representation. It is ironic, and absurd, for before the accusation Mr. Fayad was seen as “an unofficial ambassador for Saudi Arabia’s contemporary art scene.” He had curated exhibitions of Saudi art in Jeddah and at the Venice Biennale, and he was the founder director of the British-Saudi art organization Edge of Arabia, a collective of Saudi artists dedicated to promoting art in Saudi Arabia and introducing it to Western audiences.
What will the event at Agnes Scott be like and where will it be held?
The event at Agnes Scott College will begin with a brief introduction to the life of Ashraf Fayad, followed by a reading of a couple of his poems. Atlanta poets will read from their work on the theme of freedom of expression We will include poems by Ashraf Fayad in between those readings as well. We will conclude by expressing solidarity with poets and artists across the world, affirming our commitment to freedom of speech and freedom from persecution. The event will take place in the Campbell Hall Auditorium (also known as the Frannie Auditorium), from 6 to 8 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. The event is free and free parking is available on the Agnes Scott campus. For more information, visit www.agnesscott.edu.
Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist and consultant, poet and organizer.