Qatari Poet’s Sentence Not Overturned, Cut to 15 Years

The Qatari appeals court today reduced the sentence of Mohammed al-Ajami, the poet jailed for his work, from life in prison to a long stint of 15 years.

alajamiAccording to Al Jazeera, as the news outlet now appears to be covering the case, al-Ajami “shouted insults at the courtroom and against the government of the Gulf state as he left the Doha court surrounded by armed security officials[.]”

However, Reuters reported not insults, but that al-Ajami called out, “There is no law for this.” Doha News also reported that al-Ajami called out about the “unfairness” of the system and muttered insults.

The 36-year-old al-Ajami– also known as Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb — was jailed in November 2011 and sentenced a year later to life in prison for “insulting the emir,” Sheikh Hamad al-Thani.

Amnesty International said in October that, “The prosecution’s case against him is reportedly based on a poem he wrote in 2010 criticising Qatar’s emir.” However, it’s widely believed that the real reason behind al-Ajami’s outrageous sentence is his “Jasmine Poem,” which declares that “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive” regimes. (Read a rough translation of the poem.)

According to Doha News, “At the heart of the case is the question of whether Al-Dheeb had recited his poems in public, which is a legal requirement for proving that he sought to overthrow the regime.” His “Jasmine Poem” was recorded, apparently without his knowledge, and uploaded to YouTube.

This is not the end of the case. Najeeb al-Nuaimi, Ajami’s lawyer, told Al Jazeera after the hearing that his client would now appeal against the verdict at the Court of Cassation, Qatar’s highest court.

Al-Ajami in prison. From al-Arab online.
Al-Ajami in prison. From al-Arab online.

“It’s a fixed trial and this shows the government is behind the justice system and that there isn’t any independence,” Nuaimi told the news station.

Even the United Nations has made mention of al-Ajami’s situation. According to Reuters, “U.N. human rights spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told a news briefing in Geneva on Jan 8 his trial had been marred by a number of procedural irregularities.”

According to the BBC, Qatar’s Supreme Court is due to make a final ruling on his sentence within the next 30 days.

It’s unknown how this might affect other Qataris’ ability to read “The Jasmine Poem” or others like it. In December, Mohamed bin Saif al-Kuwari, part of an official Qatari Human Rights Committee, told Democracy Now that if anyone in Qatar were to read “The Jasmine Poem” out loud in Qatar today, his understanding was that they too would be sentenced to life in prison.

You can still sign the petition:

Urging al-Ajami’s release

And listen to “Tunisian Jasmine”: