No mercy for Qatari poet
Mohammed Al-Ajami has spent two years in solitary confinement for reciting a poem in support of the Arab uprisings on Youtube
By Cristina Ruiz. Web only
Published online: 07 November 2013
Qatar’s Supreme Court last month upheld a 15-year prison sentence handed to poet Mohammed Al-Ajami for reciting a poem in support of the Arab uprisings on Youtube. Al-Ajami, 37, a married father of four children, was a third-year literature student at Cairo University when he was arrested in Qatar in November 2011. A year later, after a trial marred by irregularities, the Criminal Court in Doha found him guilty of incitement to overthrow the Emir and condemned him to life in prison—a sentence reduced to 15 years on appeal.
Al-Ajami has spent the last two years in solitary confinement with severe restrictions on visits. Representatives of PEN International, the literary and human rights organisation, were last month denied access to Al-Ajami. “We came to Qatar out of respect for the country’s commitment to the arts and expanded global dialogue and a deep concern that the imprisonment of a writer for his poetry is inconsistent with this stated goal,” said the organisation’s Joanne Leedom-Ackerman.
“We are concerned about the conditions of Al-Ajami’s detention, in particular the restrictions of solitary confinement… [we] continue to call on authorities at the very least to remove him from solitary confinement and allow him to associate with other prisoners, and to lift restrictions on visits from family, friends, and independent observers as mandated by UN principles.”
Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, Phillip Luther said: “[We] consider Mohammed Al-Ajami a prisoner of conscience held solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.”
“He should be released immediately and unconditionally and his verdict quashed,” Luther said, adding “it is particularly alarming to see a sentence like this from Qatar— which is branding itself as a country that embraces the arts and purports to respect international human rights standards.”
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom declared itself “disappointed” that Al-Ajami’s sentence was not overturned, and “concerned about the worrying precedent this sets for issues related to freedom of expression in Qatar”.
“The case has also brought to attention the worrying lack of coverage in local newspapers of a story which has garnered international recognition. This harsh sentence will contribute towards the exacerbation of a culture of self censorship and fear, which will surely deter artists and journalists alike from exercising their right to free expression.”
Al Ajami’s last hope is a direct appeal to the Emir for a pardon, says his lawyer Najeeb Al-Nauimi, adding that this must be decided by Al-Ajami's family rather than his lawyer.
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