RAN 71/12
November 2012

Qatar: Poet will contest life sentence

UPDATE: CNN reported on December 1 that Qatari poet Muhammed ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami received a life sentence for a verse of poetry that insulted his country's emir. Al-Ajami has been detained since November 2011 following the publication of his "Jasmine Poem," which criticized Persian Gulf governments and praised Tunisia's revolution, according to Amnesty International. Al-Ajami will appeal his case.

Sign the petition below to show your support for al-Ajami's release.

International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee is seriously concerned about the detention of poet Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami. Al-Ajami was arrested on November 16, 2011. He was then reportedly held incommunicado for months before being allowed family visits, and remains in solitary confinement in Doha’s Central Prison. He is believed to be facing charges of inciting to overthrow the ruling system, which carries the death penalty under article 130 of Qatar’s penal code. His court sessions have been held in secret without any legal representation. PEN is alarmed at reports that he has been ill-treated and tortured, and there are mounting concerns for his well-being in detention. PEN International urges the Qatari authorities to abide by their obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of poet al-Ajami.

According to PEN’s information, al-Ajami was summoned on November 16, 2012, to the Qatari state security to be interrogated about a poem entitled ‘Tunisian Jasmine’, which he wrote in January 2011 and in which he criticized governments across the Gulf, stating that “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite." He previously recited a poem that criticised Qatar’s emir, which was posted online in August 2010.


Freedom of expression is strictly controlled in Qatar, hampering freedom of the press and contributing to self-censorship among the media. Poets, bloggers, journalists and other civilians cannot speak their minds without fear of facing incommunicado detention, secret trials and other harsh repercussions.

Qatar’s accession to the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism in May 2008 further threatened free speech, as its provisions risk criminalizing legitimate activities.

Sign the petition below and PEN Center USA will send the following appeals on your behalf:

  • Expressing serious concern about the about the incommunicado detention of poet Mohammed al-Ajami;
  • Calling on the Qatari authorities to drop all charges against Mohammed al-Ajami relating solely to the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and to ensure that his trial is in accordance with international fair trial standards;
  • Expressing concerns for al-Ajami’s safety, and seeking assurances that he is not being tortured or ill-treated in detention, which violates Article 5 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);
  • Urging the authorities to allow al-Ajami full access to his family and lawyer, including trial observation, and to any necessary medical treatment;
  • Urging the authorities to abide by their obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and to immediately and unconditionally release poet Al-Ajami, who is detained solely for the peaceful expression of his opinion.

The period for signing this petition is now over.