NEW YORK – A Qatari court has upheld a 15-year sentence for poet Mohammad ibn al Dheeb al Ajami, PEN American Center was informed earlier today.

Al Ajami was arrested in 2011 on charges of “inciting the overthrow of the ruling system” and insulting the emir after a video of him reading an original poem surfaced on Facebook. The video-recorded reading of “Tunisian Jasmine” at a private gathering, posted online by a guest, shows the poet reciting aloud, “We are all Tunisians in the face of the repressive elite.”

Originally sentenced to life in prison, in February 2013 al Ajami’s sentence was reduced on appeal. Today marked his final opportunity for official appeal at the Cassation Court of Qatar, which upheld the sentence.

Al Ajami’s only remaining hope to avoid the 15-year prison term is clemency granted by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, who assumed power in June 2013 when his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, stepped down after nearly two decades in power.

PEN has worked closely with al Ajami’s case since his arrest in 2011. In light of this new development, PEN American Center Executive Director Suzanne Nossel released the following statement:

“The affirmation of Mohammed al Ajami’s conviction and sentence to fifteen years in jail for the crime of writing a poem is in shocking violation of protections for free expression enshrined in international law and in Qatar’s own constitution.  It is hard to fathom how any government could justify the conviction of a poet for the crime of penning a verse.  At a moment when Qatar is seeking to make a name for itself as an international center for arts and culture, this draconian sentence is a vivid reminder that creative freedom will never thrive when it can be suspended at will by the state. 

We call upon the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, to grant clemency to al Ajami and affirm Qatar’s commitment to its international human rights obligations, including respect for freedom of speech.”


PEN American Center is the largest branch of PEN International, the world’s leading literary and human rights organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled and defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession.  For more information on PEN’s work, please visit


Contact:  Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager, PEN American Center (212) 334.1660 x 116; sedkins[at]