Campaigners in new plea to free poet serving 15 years in Qatar jail
The writers’ pressure group, English PEN, has launched a new call for the release of poet Mohammed al-‘Ajami, known as Ibn al-Dheeb, who is serving 15 years in prison in Qatar for a poem. English PEN said: “On 24 December, Mohammed al-‘Ajami will spend yet another birthday - his 40th - in prison and away from his family, while 25 December marks his 1,500th day in prison. Mohammed al-‘Ajami is serving a 15-year sentence in the Central Prison, in Doha, simply for writing and reciting a poem considered critical of the ruling family.
“Mohammed al-‘Ajami was arrested in Qatar in November 2011 after a recital of his work ‘The Cairo Poem’, performed in his apartment in Egypt more than a year earlier, was recorded and uploaded to YouTube without his knowledge. The poem was deemed to be insulting to the Emir and Mohammed al-‘Ajami was tried on charges including ‘publicly inciting to overthrow the ruling system’ and ’publicly challenging the authority of the Emir‘.
“On 29 November 2012, Mohammed al-‘Ajami was sentenced to life imprisonment. On 25 February 2013, the sentence was reduced on appeal to 15 years’ imprisonment.
“We are also particularly concerned that throughout the pre-trial detention and interrogations Mohammed al-‘Ajami was held in solitary confinement in a very small cell, in which he could not lie down without pressing against the lavatory, and that he has spent most of his detention in such conditions. We urge the Qatari authorities to ensure that he is treated humanely whilst he remains in detention.
“We also call of His Excellency Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, emir of the state of Qatar, to order his immediate and unconditional release as he is a prisoner of conscience who has been imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.”
Meanwhile an appeal has been filed on behalf of Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, who is facing a death sentence in Saudi Arabia for allegedly renouncing Islam. A document filed by Abdulrahman al-Lahem, a human rights lawyer, argues that the case against Fayadh was seriously flawed. Lahem told the Guardian: “Fayadh’s life is not in danger … We are confident that the trial will be reversed and Fayadh will be freed based on the [legal] precedents in the kingdom.”
The appeal argues that Fayadh’s initial arrest in 2013 by the mutaween (religious police) was unlawful as it was not ordered by the state prosecution service. The allegation of apostasy made by Shaheen bin Ali Abu Mismar, who is alleged to have had a personal dispute with the poet, was not corroborated by other evidence, which goes against the principles of sharia law, it argues.
Fayadh, a Palestinian refugee who co-curated a Saudi art show at the 2013 Venice Biennale, has been in prison since January 2014. His father died of a stroke after hearing of his death sentence but the poet was not allowed to attend the funeral.