RAN 72/12: QATAR

PEN International continues to protest the detention of poet Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, whose 15-year sentence for “criticizing the ruler” and “inciting the overthrow of the ruling system” was upheld on October 21, 2013. He remains held in solitary confinement in Doha Central prison. PEN International considers Al-Ajami to be imprisoned in violation of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release. PEN International opposes the use of criminal defamation and insult laws and calls for them to be overturned.

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Please send appeals immediately:

• Protesting the continued detention of poet Mohammed al-Ajami, solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

• Urging the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release poet Al-Ajami and for defamation to be decriminalized in Qatar.

• Demanding that whilst imprisoned Mohammaed al-Ajami is allowed to associate with other prisoners, and that restrictions on visits from family, friends, and independent observers are lifted as mandated by UN principles.

• Urging Qatar to accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights without delay.

Send appeals to:

Amir of the State of Qatar Shaikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
PO Box 923
Doha, State of Qatar
Fax: + 974 4436 1212
Salutation: Your Highness Minister of the Interior

Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani
Ministry of the Interior
PO Box 920
Doha, State of Qatar
Email: info@moi.gov.qa
Salutation: His Excellency

And copies to:

Attorney General
Dr Ali bin Fetais Al Marri
PO Box 705
Doha, State of Qatar

Fax: +974 4484 3211

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Qatar in your country if possible.

You are encouraged to elect poet Mohammed al-Ajami as an honorary member of your center and by doing so provide long term support and advocacy for him and his family. For details of the International PEN Honorary Membership scheme, read the PEN WiPC Guide to Defending Writers Under Attack (Part V, pp 15-20). Please let us know if you do so and we will ensure that your Center is networked with others working on his case. Messages of support should be sent to: 
Mohammed al-Ajami
Doha Central Prison, Salwa Road, Al Rayan
Doha, State of Qatar

According to PEN’s information, Al-Ajami was sentenced to life imprisonment on November 29, 2012 on charges of “inciting the overthrow of the ruling system” (Article 130 of the Penal Code) and “criticising the [then] Amir and the Crown Prince [now Amir]” (Article 134) in his poetry. On February 25, 2013, his sentence was reduced to 15 years. Following the court’s latest ruling, Al-Ajami’s only legal recourse is to be pardoned by the Amir.

A known poet in the Gulf and a father of four, al-Ajami was a literature student at Cairo University in 2010 when he recited a poem in his apartment among friends, in which he criticized the former Amir Sheikh Hamad Al Thani. The poem was in response to a poem by a fellow poet, but one of the students in the apartment recorded al-Ajami and uploaded the reading on YouTube. According to al-Ajami’s lawyer Dr. Najeeb al-Nauimi, a former justice minister in Qatar, the poem was spoken in a private setting and thus violated no law. Another of al-Ajami’s poems — “Tunisian Jasmine” — which expressed support for the 2011 uprising in Tunisia and criticized other Arab governments was circulated on the internet.

Al-Ajami was arrested on November 16, 2011, after responding to a summons, and was detained incommunicado for several months. His trial, which did not meet international standards of fairness, was repeatedly postponed. Al-Ajami was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment after a trial – repeatedly postponed and held in secret – where the investigating judge, a non-Qatari, was also the chief judge. The Amir appoints all judges on recommendation from the Supreme Judicial Council. Seventy-five percent of judges are foreign nationals, dependent on residency permits, a situation which violates international standards on the independence of the judiciary.

Al-Ajami is detained in Doha’s Central Prison, where he has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest. On October 23, 2013, representatives from PEN American Center were prevented from visiting him despite having been told their visit had been approved. For more details read ‘Qatar: A poet sits in a desert cell for reciting his work at home’ by Joanne Leedom Ackerman. Al-Ajami is honorary member of PEN American Center and German PEN.

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: cathy.mccann@pen-international.org

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