Qatar upholds 15-year sentence against maverick poet

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A top Qatari court on Monday upheld a 15-year jail term handed to a poet convicted of incitement against the regime, his lawyer said.

“The Court of Cassation sentenced Mohammed al-Ajami to 15 years in prison,” confirming the sentence given to the poet by an appeals court in February, Nejib al-Naimi told AFP.

He described Monday’s court ruling as “a political and not a judicial decision.”

Ajami’s sole recourse now is to appeal to Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani for clemency.
“I hope the emir will grant him an amnesty,” Naimi said.

Ajami was arrested in November 2011 after the publication of his “Jasmine poem,” which criticized governments across the Gulf region in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.

“We are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite,” he wrote, referring to the North African country which was the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

In a clear allusion to Qatar, home to a major U.S. base, he wrote: “I hope that change will come in countries whose ignorant leaders believe that glory lies in U.S. forces.”

Throughout his trial, his lawyer insisted that there was no evidence Ajami had publicly recited the poem, a key part of the prosecution case.

A lower court had initially sentenced Ajami to life in prison before an appeals court reduced the jail term to 15 years.

Naimi, a former justice minister, had argued that on the charges leveled against him, his client ought to be liable to a maximum sentence of five years in jail.