A Qatari court has sentenced a poet to life in prison for his verse ‘insulting’ the country`s leader and inciting anti-regime sentiment. The poem was inspired by the Arab Spring protests.
Muhammad Dheeb Ajami was charged with "insulting" Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and "inciting to overthrow the ruling system" for his poem, Tunisian Jasmine, inspired by the uprising in Tunisia.
The poet's lawyer says he was not even given a chance to defend his client.
“This judge made the whole trial secret,'' said Najib Nuaimi. “Muhammad was not allowed to defend himself, and I was not allowed to plead or defend in court.”
Nuaimi said he is planning to appeal the verdict.
Human rights activists were outraged by the court’s decision accusing Doha of double standards when it comes to the freedom of speech.
Ajami, a third-year student of literature at Cairo University, was summoned and subsequently arrested in November last year some months after he posted online a video where he reads his poem.
The poem reads – “We are all Tunisia in the face of repressive'' authorities, and criticizes Arab governments that restrict freedoms.
Ajami has been held in solitary confinement ever since, his lawyer said.
The string of massive protests across the Arab world, regarded as Arab Spring, began in Tunisia in December 2010. Arab Spring protests took place in more than a dozen countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Qatar, however, was not on the list of the Arab Spring countries.
Amnesty International labeled the life sentence to the Qatari poet as “an outrageous betrayal of free speech.”
“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 International’s Middle East and North Africa director.
Amnesty International believes the charges that resulted in such a harsh sentence to the poet were based on the content of his poetry.
“All the information available points to Mohammed al-Ajami being a prisoner of conscience who has been placed behind bars solely for his words. Accordingly, he should be released immediately and his conviction quashed,” Luther said.