PEN International condemns the life sentence handed down on November 29, 2012, to poet Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami for allegedly “inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime” and “criticizing the ruler” in a poem. PEN believes that al-Ajami has been sentenced solely for peacefully excercising his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Background Information

Amnesty International gives the following background:

Poet Mohammed al-Ajami (also known as Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb) had been arrested by state security on 16 November 2011 in the capital, Doha, and charged with “inciting to overthrow the ruling system” and “insulting the Amir”. He had presented himself to state security when summoned, and been immediately arrested. He was detained incommunicado for months before he was allowed family visits and has been held in solitary confinement during his entire detention. He is detained in Doha’s Central Prison. The prosecution is reported to have brought the charges over a 2010 poem in which Mohammed al-Ajami criticized the Amir. However, activists in the Gulf region believe that the real reason for his arrest was his 2011 work “the Jasmine Poem”, which he wrote during the wave of protests throughout the Arab world that began in December 2010. The poem criticized Gulf states and read: “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite”. His trial, which began in November 2011 at the Criminal Court in Doha, is said to have been marred by irregularities, with the court sessions held in secret. His lawyer was not allowed to attend one of the court sessions and had to provide his defence in writing only. He was sentenced to life in prison on 29 November by the same court. Observers were not allowed to enter the court, and Mohammed al-Ajami himself was not present at the sentencing. He is expected to appeal. A copy of the verdict obtained by Amnesty International gives no reason for the harsh sentence, but the organization understands that the charges on which he was convicted were based on the content of his poetry.

Freedom of expression is strictly controlled in Qatar, hampering freedom of the press and contributing to self-censorship among the media. Poets, bloggers, journalists and other civilians cannot speak their minds without fear of facing incommunicado detention, secret trials and other harsh repercussions. Qatar’s accession to the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism in May 2008 further threatened free speech, as its provisions risk criminalizing legitimate activities.

Write A Letter

  • Protesting the life sentence handed down to poet Mohammed al-Ajami;
  • Expressing concerns for al-Ajami’s safety, and seeking assurances that he is not being tortured or ill-treated in detention in violation of Article 5 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);
  • Urging authorities to abide by their obligations under Article 19 of the ICCPR, and to immediately and unconditionally release poet Al-Ajami, who has been detained solely for the peaceful expression of his opinion.

Send Your Letter To

Amir of the State of Qatar Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani
PO Box 923 Doha, State of Qatar
Fax: + 974 4436 1212
Salutation: Your Highness

Minister of the Interior
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Khalid Al Thani
Ministry of the Interior
PO Box 920 Doha,
State of Qatar
Fax: + 974 4444 4945 (keep trying)
Salutation: His Excellency

With Copies to:

Attorney General Dr Ali bin Fetais Al Marri
PO Box 705 Doha,
State of Qatar
Fax: +974 4484 3211

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Qatar in your country if possible.