On November 29, 2012, the Criminal Court in Doha convicted Mohammed al-Ajami for “inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime” and “criticizing the Emir” for two of his poems, and sentenced him to life in prison in a two-line judgment. The poet was not present for the decision. His sentence was later reduced to 15 years on appeal on February 25, 2013. That sentence was confirmed by Qatar’s Supreme Court on October 21, 2013, despite arguments that the charges and trial were deeply flawed. He has no further legal recourse in the courts.

Al-Ajami has been held in solitary confinement in Doha’s Central Prison since his arrest, with extremely limited visitation rights in violation of UN principles. On 23 October 2013, representatives from PEN American Center were prevented from visiting him despite having been told their visit had been approved. For more details read Qatar: A poet sits in a desert cell for reciting his work at home’ by Joanne Leedom Ackerman.

Case History

Born on December 24, 1975, Mohammed al-Ajami, a Qatari citizen, is a poet and a third-year literature student at Cairo University. He is married with two daughters and two sons, the youngest of whom was born while the poet was in prison.

Mohammed al-Ajami was arrested in Doha on November 16, 2011, after being summoned by state security. He was reportedly charged two days later with “inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime” and “criticizing the Emir” for two of his poems. The first was never written down but rather spoken in a private poetry slam among friends at Cairo University in August 2010 in response to a fellow poet. That poem was surreptitiously recorded and posted online. The case file against al-Ajami includes responses from three poets employed by the Culture Ministry, asserting that the poem is a veiled call to challenge the authority and competence of the state. The second poem, “Tunisian Jasmine,” written in 2011, expresses support for the uprising there, and was also recorded and posted online.

During the trial, which was held in secret, al-Ajami was repeatedly kept from court and his defense lawyer, Dr. Najeeb al-Nauimi, was barred from giving oral arguments. Two different lawyers were appointed to al-Ajami despite the fact that Dr. Najeeb had already been retained. During his pre-trial detention, al-Ajami was held incommunicado for months before being permitted family visits.

Al-Ajami is an honorary member of PEN American Center and German PEN. PEN International considers Al-Ajami to be imprisoned in violation of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release. 

View an interactive infographic about Mohammed al-Ajami’s case.

Writing by Mohammed Al-Ajami

Tunisian Jasmine