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Qatari student jailed for life for internet poem

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A poet in Qatar has been jailed for life after an internet video was posted of him reciting a poem that praised the Arab spring and Qatar’s uprising. Muhammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami had been in prison since November 2011, months after the video was posted of him reciting Tunisian Jasmine - a poem lauding that country's popular uprising, which sparked the Arab spring rebellions across the Middle East. In the poem, he said: "We are all Tunisia in the face of repressive" authorities, and criticised Arab governments that restrict freedoms.

The poet's lawyer said he planned to appeal against the state security court’s verdict. The hearing was held in secret, he added. Qatari officials charged Ajami with "insulting" Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and "inciting to overthrow the ruling system". The latter charge could have brought a death sentence.

Ajami, a third-year student of literature at Cairo University, had been held in solitary confinement since his arrest, his lawyer said. Last year, neighbouring Bahrain issued a royal pardon for 20-year-old Ayat al-Gormezi, who had been sentenced to a year in prison for reciting poetry critical of the government.

Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther, said: “It is deplorable that Qatar, which likes to paint itself internationally as a country that promotes freedom of expression, is indulging in what appears to be such a flagrant abuse of that right. All the information available points to Muhammad al-Ajami being a prisoner of conscience who has been placed behind bars solely for his words. Accordingly, he should be released immediately and his conviction quashed.”

Qatar is the headquarters of media organisation Al-Jazeera, which has won plaudits for its reports on uprisings throughout the region in the last two years. However, Qatar has strictly controlled press freedoms and freedom of expression with regard to criticism of its own government. 

Meanwhile the writers organisation PEN has produced its Christmas list of writers at risk, and their families. Those who would like to send seasonal greetings and a message of solidarity to an embattled writer, from  Bahrain to Spain, from Iran to Uzbekistan, should email to request the list for 2012-13. More details






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Anthony Emmerson

Thu 29th Nov 2012 20:58

I heard this earlier - ironic on the day Leveson's conclusions were aired. Is there any news of anything international that poets can get involved with to protest and show support?

Personally I can think of a few poems posted on internet sites that should result in a jail sentence - but not for those reasons . . .

Keep us posted please.

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