The ruler of Qatar, Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, has been urged by a human rights organisation not to approve a media law that will compromise press freedom.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) argues that the draft law contains penalties for those who criticise Qatar and its neighbouring governments.

In 1996, Shaikh Hamad was responsible for setting up Al Jazeera, the news network that has been so prominent in reporting popular uprisings in the Middle East.

But the draft law, which Qatar’s legislative body approved in June 2012, would undermine press freedom, according to HRW.

Its deputy Middle East director, Joe Stork, says: “Instead of supporting press freedom, this draft media law is a commitment to censorship.”

Even before the Shaikh Hamad makes up his mind on whether to ratify the law, freedom of expression is already under pressure.

HRW points to the case of Qatari poet Mohammad Bin Al DheebAl Ajami, who has been in prison for a year after five postponements to his trial on charges of “inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime,” which carries the death penalty.

It appears that the charges relate to the fact that Al- Dheeb recited a poem that appeared on the internet in August 2010 and included passages that insulted the emir.

- Guardian News and Media Limited