[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Friday that a Saudi Arabia court has sentenced Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death for apostasy or abandoning his Muslim faith. The organization's researcher in the Middle East, Adam Coogle, said that he had seen the trial documents [Reuters report] and confirmed the death sentence. According to Coogle, Fayadh's original sentence was four years in prison and 800 lashes, but this changed after another judge revised the sentence to death three days ago when the case was brought for retrial after Fayadh's appeal was dismissed. According to Mona Kareem, a migrant rights activist from Kuwait, Fayadh's identification documents had been confiscated during his arrest in January 2014, after which the judges and prosecutor for his case were changed. Kareem said [Guardian report] that the new judge passed the verdict without even speaking to Fayadh. Kareem speculated that Fayadh is in reality being punished for posting a video online showing the Mutaween (religious police) lashing a man in public. According to Fayadh, he has no legal representation and has been given 30 days to appeal against his ruling.
Saudi Arabia's justice system has drawn international criticism [JURIST report] for alleged human rights abuses in recent years. Earlier this month Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported [press release] that Saudi Arabia has executed a record 151 people this year, the highest number since 1995. In 2014 the total number of executions carried out was 90, which would mean that this total number is up by 68 percent. 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. As little as two months ago, a group of UN human rights experts urged authorities [JURIST report] in Saudi Arabia to block the execution [press release] of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr [IBT backgrounder], who was convicted of involvement in the Arab Spring protests when he was 17.