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Qatar slashes life term against poet to 15 years

Al Ajami charged with inciting to topple political regime

Gulf News

Dubai: Qatar’s court of appeals on Monday slashed the life-in-prison verdict against a poet to 15 years in jail.

Mohammad Bin Al Dheeb Al Ajami was given the life sentence on November 29 by a lower court on charges of composing and reading out a poem that was deemed as “inciting to overthrow the ruling system”.

“My client was sentenced today to 15 years in prison,” Mohammad Najib Al Naimi told AFP, adding that the case will now be taken to the court of cassation for the final decision.

Al Ajami was arrested after the publication of his “Jasmine poem”, which criticised governments across the Gulf region in the wake of crackdowns on the Arab Spring uprisings, with the line “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite”.

Al Naimi said “the appeals court was apparently politicised and does not differ much from the court of first instance”.

Throughout the trial, the lawyer insisted in the court that “there was no evidence Al Ajami had recited the poem he is being tried for in public,” a key claim by the prosecution, and that he only read it “at his apartment in Cairo”.

Amnesty International has said that Al Ajami, who was arrested in November 2011, is accused of incitement “to overthrow the ruling system” and “insulting the emir”.

Al Naimi, a former Qatari justice minister, said that according to the charges against his client he was liable to a maximum of five years in jail.

The poet was reportedly summoned by the state security in late 2011 after he read out his poem.

Qatar said that the sentence was not an abuse of freedom of speech, but action against an illegal call to overthrow political regimes, a violation of the local law.

Under Article 130 of Qatar’s penal code, the charge of inciting to overthrow the ruling system carries the death penalty.

The case has received wide international attention as Qatar has assumed a large role on the global scene after it won the distinction of becoming the first Arab and Muslim country to host the football World Cup finals in 2022. It was also selected to host the handball World Cup finals in 2015.

The country has also been getting special mentions for its role in promoting change in several Arab countries, especially Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and for its leading drive for political changes in Syria.

— With inputs from AFP