A Qatari court’s life sentence for the poet Muhammad Ibn al-Dheeb Al-Ajami after a grossly unfair trial on 29 November 2012 “flagrantly violates the right to free expression”, Human Rights Watch said on 4 December 2012.
AMY GOODMAN, journalist, Democracy Now: “So, if someone read Mohammad’s poem today in Qatar out loud, they too would be sentenced to life in prison?”
MOHAMED BIN SAIF AL-KUWARI, member of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee: “Yes. Now this is according to the judgments last month.”
Excerpt of tv interview in Democracy Now’s news programme
In June 2010, Muhammad Ibn al-Dheeb Al-Ajami began a poetic “duel” with another Qatari poet, Khalil al-Shabrami, in which they addressed each other in poems – often performed in front of small private audiences. They recorded the poems and uploaded them to the Internet. In some of these poems, over the course of approximately one year, Ibn al-Dheeb disparaged members of Qatar’s ruling family, including the emir and his wife.
In January 2011, Ibn al-Dheeb Al-Ajami published a poem titled ‘Tunisian Jasmine’, where he expressed support for the uprising there. “We are all Tunisia in the face of repressive elites,” he wrote – and criticized Arab governments in general as “indiscriminate thieves”: “The Arab governments and who rules them are, without exception, thieves. Thieves!”
Al-Ajami was summoned to meet with state security officials on 16 November 2011 in Doha, and was arrested when he arrived for the meeting. He has been in detention since then. Qatar”s judiciary reportedly charged him on 19 November 2011 with “inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime,” but according to Human Rights Watch it is unclear on what basis the court convicted him.
Five-minute court hearing
The court’s two-line written judgment on 29 November 2012, makes no reference to any law that Ibn al-Dheeb Al-Ajami is alleged to have broken, although the prosecution claimed during the five-minute hearing that he had called for a revolution in Qatar. Ibn al-Dheeb Al-Ajami was not in court and according to his lawyer the judge prevented him from entering any defense or responding to the prosecution’s claims.
“Qatar, after all its posturing as a supporter of freedom, turns out to be determined to keep its citizens quiet,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Ibn al-Dheeb’s alleged mockery of Qatar’s rulers can hardly compare to the mockery this judgment makes of the country’s posture as a regional center for media freedom.”
Article 47 of Qatar’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression and opinion “in accordance with the conditions and circumstances set forth in the law,” and Qatar also pledged to respect the right to free expression under article 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, to which it is a party.
“Ibn al-Dheeb’s conviction is evidence that Qatar’s rulers regard the country’s constitution and treaty obligations as meaningless words,” Joe Stork said.
Democracy Now – 7 December 2012:
Qatari Human Rights Official Defends Life Sentence for Poet Who Praised Arab Spring Uprisings
We speak to his attorney and a member of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee. [Includes rush transcript]
IFEX / Human Rights Watch – 4 December 2012:
Qatari poet sentenced to life in prison
The Guardian / Associated Press – 29 November 2012:
Qatari poet jailed for life after writing verse inspired by Arab spring
Officials claim Muhammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami’s poem encouraged overthrow of Qatar’s ruling system
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