NEW YORK—PEN America is delighted by reports that Qatari poet Mohammed al Ajami, imprisoned for over four years, has been released. Al Ajami was arrested in 2011 on charges of “inciting the overthrow of the ruling system” and “insulting the Emir” resulting from two of his poems. The charges were brought after recordings of al Ajami reciting his poems at private gatherings were posted online. One of the poems, “Tunisian Jasmine,” expresses support for the popular uprising in Tunisia that began the Arab Spring. Al Ajami was originally sentenced to life in prison, which was reduced to 15 years on appeal in February 2013.

“Mohammed al Ajami’s imprisonment stood out as an egregious example of a government’s furious intolerance for dissent and of the perils of online expression in places where governments will use any excuse to punish their enemies,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America executive director.‎ “We await details of his release but are already celebrating the news of his freedom.”

In October 2013, representatives of PEN International and PEN America traveled to Qatar to meet with authorities at the Public Prosecution office to formally request access to Al Ajami—whose prison visitation rights were severely restricted—and were approved to visit the poet. The delegation was met with a series of obstructions when they reached Doha’s Central Prison, however, and was ultimately denied access by prison authorities. Al Ajami’s family told the PEN representatives that the poet knew they were there and was heartened by the visit.

Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: [email protected], +1 (646) 779-4830