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Qatari Poet Sentenced for ‘Threatening to Overthrow the Regime’ Loses Final Appeal

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Qatar, Human Rights

Mohammed al-Dheeb al-Ajami

Qatar's Court of Cassation, the country's highest judicial body, upheld a 15-year prison sentence earlier this week for poet Muhammad Rashid al-Ajami, who goes by the poetic name Muhammad Ibn al-Dheeb.

The Qatari citizen had been seeking a retrial after he was first convicted by a lower court last year of “inciting the overthrow of the regime” with his poetry and given a life sentence, which was then reduced by the Appeals Court in February to 15 years in jail.

“There is no justice,” Ibn al-Dheeb's outspoken lawyer Najeeb al-Nauimi told Qatar-based Doha News [1]. “Our judicial system cannot be trusted.”

International human rights groups have widely condemned the trial of a poet as an attack on freedom of expression.

Reacting to Monday's ruling, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth questioned Qatar's free speech record:

@KenRoth [2]: Supposed bastion of free speech via al-Jazeera, #Qatar [3] court upholds 15-year prison term for poet–a critic of govt. http://trib.al/EViKXCm  [4]

Amnesty International, meanwhile, renewed its calls for Ibn al-Dheeb to freed, calling him a “a prisoner of conscience”:

@jpmlynch: [5] Amnesty calls for release of Qatari poet sentenced to 15 years in prison http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/qatar-release-poet-sentenced-15-years-prison-2013-10-21 … [6]

The United Nations added its voice to the issue, calling the sentence “disproportionate”: 

@philippe_dam: [7] Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay concerned by condemnation of poet Mohammed al Ajami in #Qatar [3] & calls for his release. @NcGeehan [8]

@RobinWigg: [9] UNHRC on Mohammed al Ajami's 15 year sentence in Qatar for poem: “This sentence is clearly disproportionate.” You don't say.


Ibn al-Dheeb has been jailed in Qatar since 2011, when he returned from studies in Egypt. The charges leveled against him mentioned a 2010 poem he recited at a private gathering in Cairo in which he apparently made veiled references to Qatar's ruling family in a critical fashion. 

But the poet's defenders say his jailing is politically motivated, and stem from a poem in defense of Tunisia's uprising in which he stated “All of us are Tunisia in the face of these oppressors,” referring to Arab dictators.

That poem is available in Arabic on YouTube, and has received over 2 million views so far:

An English-language translation is also available [10] by Kareem James Abu-Zeid.

What do you think should be the limits on freedom of expression? 

Credit: Photo by Lex Paulson