QATAR SENTENCES POET TO LIFE IN PRISON FOR COMMITTING POETRY
By William Boardman
Life in prison may seem a harsh sentence for reciting a poem out loud, but it’s apparently what state security demands in Doha, Qatar, where a secret court delivered this sentence at the end of a short, secret trial in a state security case tried there in November.
Muhammed ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, 37, a Qatari poet with a wife and child, was studying literature at Cairo University when the Tunisian revolution broke out in December 2010. Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, al-Ajami wrote a short poem, “Tunisian Jasmine” [see below], celebrating the overthrow of repressive elites. He recited the poem to private audiences and the audio of at least one such performance appeared on YouTube, but al-Ajami says he didn’t post it, and doesn’t know who did.
Qatari authorities took notice of the performance and, some months later, in November 2011, they arrested al-Ajami and held him in solitary confinement for most of a year before bringing him to trial. There is no allegation that he was otherwise tortured. The state charged the poet with “insulting” Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, as well as “inciting to overthrow the ruling system,” an offense that carries the death penalty.