The continuing imprisonment of the jailed poet Mohammed al-‘Ajami, widely known as Ibn al-Dheeb, underscores the Qatari government’s shameful disregard for freedom of expression, said Amnesty International today in the run up to the fourth anniversary of his detention.
The government arrested the well-known Qatari poet on 16 November 2011 for writing and reciting a poem deemed critical of Qatar’s ruling family. He is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence, confirmed after an unfair trial.
“It is tragic and absurd that Mohammed al-‘Ajami has been languishing in prison for nearly four years simply for reciting a poem that did not incite any violence. His arbitrary imprisonment and ludicrous 15-year sentence are the shameful result of the Qatari authorities’ inability to tolerate criticism and their disregard for the right to freedom of expression,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
“Qatar is keen to portray an image internationally as a country that respects human rights and embraces the arts. Every day that Mohammed al-‘Ajami remains behind bars, that claim becomes more hollow.”
Mohammed al-‘Ajami recited a Nabati poem on 24 August 2010 to a group of people in his apartment in Cairo, Egypt where he was studying Arabic literature at the time. Unbeknown to him, one of the group recorded him and uploaded the video to YouTube, where it was widely circulated. It led to his arrest and detention on 16 November 2011.
He was initially sentenced to life in prison on 29 November 2012. An appeal reduced his sentence to 15 years on 25 February 2013.
Amnesty International considers Mohammed al-‘Ajami a prisoner of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. The organization is calling for his immediate and unconditional release and for his conviction to be quashed.
The organization has today published ‘I’m nothing but a prisoner’, a new appeal for the release of Mohammed al-‘Ajami.