Poetic injustice? Qatari poet gets life sentence for ‘incitement against authorities’


Many have been shocked to see Qatar, the country which has been showing support to the Arab Spring's revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and other Arab countries, issuing a harsh life sentence imprisonment on Thursday against an opponent poet of the ruling family over a poem.

The renown Qatari poet Mohammed Ben al-Dheeb was sentenced to life imprisonment by his country state security court over a verse authorities claim insults the Gulf nation’s “symbols” and encourages the overthrow of its ruling system.

“A Qatar court sentenced to life in prison Mohammed al-Ajami, alias Ibn al-Dhib, charged on three counts: incitement against the regime, defamation of the crown prince, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and attacking the constitution,” Nejib Naimi told AFP.

He said he would appeal next week against the verdict, which was taken “after six hearings, most of them in secret.”

Under the charges against him, the poet was liable to a maximum five years in prison, said the lawyer, who was formerly Qatar’s justice minister, stressing that “life in prison only applies in the case of an attempted coup.”

Al Jazeera News Channel did not carry the news despite the fact that it has criticized violations of human rights in other Arab countries, including Kuwait, Jordan and Bahrain where opposing the authorities is a permitted act.

Several poets, writers and journalists have sent an appeal to the Qatari emir asking him to release al-Dheeb and compensate him for the year he spent in prison.

Amnesty International said in a statement that the verdict bore “all the hallmarks of an outrageous betrayal of free speech,” and called for Ajami’s immediate release.

“It is deplorable that Qatar, which likes to paint itself internationally as a country that promotes freedom of expression, is indulging in what appears to be such a flagrant abuse of that right,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s regional director.

The poet was arrested in November 2011, accused of incitement “to overthrow the ruling system” and “insulting the Emir” Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the London-based rights group said.

Amnesty said the charges on which Ajami was convicted were based on the content of his poetry.

His arrest followed the publication of the “Jasmine poem” which criticized governments across the Gulf region, saying “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite,” the statement added.