PEN International continues to protest the detention of poet Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, whose 15-year sentence for “criticizing the ruler” and “inciting the overthrow of the ruling system” was upheld on October 21, 2013. He remains held in solitary confinement in Doha Central Prison. PEN 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. PEN opposes the use of criminal defamation and insult laws and calls for them to be overturned.

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Background Information

According to PEN’s information, al-Ajami was sentenced to life imprisonment on November 29, 2012, on charges of “inciting the overthrow of the ruling system” (Article 130 of the Penal Code) and “criticizing the [then] Emir and the Crown Prince [now Emir]” (Article 134) in his poetry. On February 25, 2013, his sentence was reduced to 15 years. Following the court’s latest ruling, al-Ajami’s only legal recourse is to be pardoned by the Emir.

Al-Ajami is a renowned poet in the Gulf and a father of four. He was a literature student at Cairo University in 2010 when he recited a poem in his apartment among friends, in which he criticized the former Emir Sheikh Hamad Al Thani. He read the poem in response to a fellow poet's piece; one of the students in the apartment recorded al-Ajami's reading and uploaded it to YouTube. According to al-Ajami’s lawyer, Dr. Najeeb al-Nauimi, a former justice minister in Qatar, the poem was spoken in a private setting and thus violated no law. Another of al-Ajami’s poems, “Tunisian Jasmine," which expressed support for the 2011 uprising in Tunisia and criticized other Arab governments, was also circulated on the Internet.

Al-Ajami was arrested on November 16, 2011, after responding to a summons, and was detained incommunicado for several months. His trial, which did not meet international standards of fairness, was repeatedly postponed. Al-Ajami was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment after a trial—repeatedly postponed and held in secret—where the investigating judge, a non-Qatari, was also the chief judge. The Emir appoints all judges on recommendation from the Supreme Judicial Council. Seventy-five percent of judges are foreign nationals, dependent on residency permits, a situation that violates international standards on the independence of the judiciary.

Al-Ajami is detained in Doha’s Central Prison, where he has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest. On October 23, 2013, representatives from PEN American Center were prevented from visiting him despite having been told that 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. Al-Ajami is an honorary member of PEN American Center and German PEN.

Write A Letter

  • Protesting the continued detention of poet Mohammed al-Ajami, solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression;
  • Urging the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release poet Al-Ajami and for defamation to be decriminalized in Qatar;
  • Demanding that while imprisoned, Mohammaed al-Ajami is allowed to associate with other prisoners, and that restrictions on visits from family, friends, and independent observers are lifted as mandated by UN principles;
  • Urging Qatar to accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights without delay.

Send Your Letter To

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

Minister of the Interior
Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani
Ministry of the Interior
PO Box 920
Doha, State of Qatar
Salutation: His Excellency

Dr Ali bin Fetais Al Marri
Attorney General
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.



Send a letter of solidarity to Mohammed al-Ajami.  Messages of support can be sent to:

Mohammed al-Ajami
Doha Central Prison
Salwa Road
Al Rayan
Doha, State of Qatar