The release last night of Mohammed al-‘Ajami, also known as Ibn al-Dheeb, is a welcome development that ends a needless four year ordeal for the Qatari poet.
Amnesty International has spoken to Mohammed al-‘Ajami’s legal representative, who said that relatives of the poet confirmed to him that the poet was released around 7.30pm Doha time on 15 March. The organization has also seen video footage of him after his release.
“The release of Mohammed al-‘Ajami is long overdue good news,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program.
“It is absurd that he had to spend more than four years behind bars, when his poetry was simply the peaceful expression of his conscientiously held beliefs.
“We hope that the authorities will take the opportunity of this release to review Qatar’s criminal justice system and ensure that such flagrant violations of the right to freedom of expression are not repeated. This case has been a blight on Qatar’s international reputation.”
The terms of Mohammed al-‘Ajami’s release are not yet clear. It is essential that the authorities do not impose conditions on Mohammed al-‘Ajami’s peaceful exercise of his rights, including his right to freedom of expression. Prisoners of conscience should be released immediately and unconditionally.
Mohammed al-‘Ajami recited a 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 in November 2011. The government charged him with “publicly inciting to overthrow the ruling system”, “publicly challenging the authority of the Emir” and “publicly slandering the person of the Crown Prince” (taken together, these are sometimes termed as "insulting the Emir"). He was initially sentenced to life in prison in November 2012. An appeal reduced his sentence to 15 years on 25 February 2013. The trial was marred by irregularities and lacked basic fair trial guarantees.
For more information on his case please see Amnesty International’s briefing: “I’m nothing but a prisoner”