GUARDIAN: Hundreds of writers including Irvine Welsh, Ruth Padel and AL Kennedy are taking part in a worldwide reading in support of the Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, who has been sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia after being accused of renouncing Islam.
The readings of Fayadh’s poetry at 122 events in 44 countries on Thursday are part of a campaign organised by the International literature festival Berlin calling on the UK and US governments to halt his beheading and to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record.
The action comes ahead of Fayadh’s appeal hearing next week in which his lawyer will contest that the poet’s conviction for apostasy is seriously flawed and based on false and uncorroborated allegations.
Poems being read at the worldwide event include a selection from Fayadh’s 2008 book, Instructions Within, which his accuser claimed promoted atheism, a charge the poet has denied.
AL Kennedy, who is participating in a reading organised by PEN England at the Mosaic Rooms in west London, said Fayadh’s persecution was “very obviously unjust and morally repellent”.
Calling on the Saudi authorities to show mercy and wisdom, the novelist also offered the poet her “admiration for his courage and his devotion to truth and justice” and hoped that the international show of solidarity would “provide a measure of comfort in what must be a horrifying situation”.
Irvine Welsh, who will read at the Two Hearted Queen coffee shop in Chicago, said he hoped the campaign would put “pressure on governments who espouse democracy and freedom to consider their actions in dealing with [Saudi Arabia]”.
The Trainspotting author added: “I have distaste for all clerical regimes. I believe that people should be free to practice and renounce any religion they see fit. If you believe in human rights and are anti-fundamentalist terrorism, then isolate the regime in Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, you are guilty by association.”
Earlier this month, organisers of the Berlin festival sent a letter, signed by 350 writers’ associations and authors, including Nobel laureates Orhan Pamuk and Mario Vargas Llosa, to Barack Obama, David Cameron and the German foreign ministry calling on them to intervene in the imprisoned poet’s case.
The letter also demanded that the United Nations suspend Saudi Arabia from its Human Rights Council until the country’s “abysmal record on upholding civil liberties improves”.