‘Poetry Under Attack’: An Evening in Support of Mohammad al-Ajami

On February 27 in London, poets from around the world will gather in support of imprisoned Qatari poet Mohammad al-Ajami, who is currently serving a 15-year sentence for his work:

Mohammed-Ibn-al-Dheeb-al-AjamiIn October 2013, al-Ajami’s 15-year prison sentence — ostensibly for a 2010 poem that criticized Qatar’s emir — was upheld as “final.”

At the time, al-Ajami’s lawyer, Najib al-Naimi, still held out hope for a pardon from the emir. But more than a year has passed with no sign of a pardon.

Still, al-Ajami is not forgotten, and on Feb. 27, and poets — including Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi, Karim Abid, Imtiaz Dharker, Sabrina Mahfouz, and John Paul O’Neill — will mark two years since al-Ajami’s sentence was reduced from life in prison to 15 year.

The event is set to begin at 7 pm, with doors opening at 6.30pm. It will be held at Amnesty International UK, The Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA

The event is free but people are asked to reserve a place online.

Al-Ajami was arrested in November 2011 after the YouTube publication of his “Tunisian Jasmine,” a poem that praised Arab uprisings and criticised governments across the region. The case against him was ostensibly about the 2010 poem that criticized the emir, but many believe authorities are punishing al-Ajami for his Jasmine poem.

Kareem James Abu-Zeid’s free translation of the Jasime Poem, which was read at an event in support of the poet in San Francisco:

Jasmine Revolution Poem

By Mohammad al-Ajami Ibn al-Dhib

Prime Minister, Mohamed al-Ghannouchi:
If we measured your might
it wouldn’t hold a candle
to a constitution.
We shed no tears for Ben Ali,
nor any for his reign.
It was nothing more than a moment
in time for us,
and dictatorial,
a system of oppression,
an era of autocracy.
Tunisia declared the people’s revolt:
When we lay blame
only the base and vile suffer from it;
and when we praise
we do so with all our hearts.
A revolution was kindled with the blood of the people:
their glory had worn away,
the glory of every living soul.
So, rebel, tell them,
tell them in a shrouded voice, a voice from the grave:
tell them that tragedies precede all victories.
A warning to the country whose ruler is ignorant,
whose ruler deems that power
comes from the American army.
A warning to the country
whose people starve
while the regime boasts of its prosperity.
A warning to the country whose citizens sleep:
one moment you have your rights,
the next they’re taken from you.
A warning to the system—inherited—of oppression.
How long have all of you been slaves
to one man’s selfish predilections?
How long will the people remain
ignorant of their own strength,
while a despot makes decrees and appointments,
the will of the people all but forgotten?
Why is it that a ruler’s decisions are carried out?
They’ll come back to haunt him
in a country willing
to rid itself of coercion.
Let him know, he
who pleases only himself, and does nothing
but vex his own people; let him know
that tomorrow
someone else will be seated on that throne,
someone who knows the nation’s not his own,
nor the property of his children.
It belongs to the people, and its glories
are the glories of the people.
They gave their reply, and their voice was one,
and their fate, too, was one.
All of us are Tunisia
in the face of these oppressors.
The Arab regimes and those who rule them
are all, without exception,
without a single exception,
shameful, thieves.
This question that keeps you up at night—
its answer won’t be found
on any of the official channels…
Why, why do these regimes
import everything from the West—
everything but the rule of law, that is,
and everything but freedom?