Doha: A court in Qatar sentenced a poet to life in prison on Thursday for incitement to overthrow the government and criticising the ruling Emir, his lawyer said.

In his poetry, Mohammad Ibn Al Dheeb Al Ajami praised the Arab Spring revolts that have toppled dictators in four Arab countries since early last year and criticised Qatari Emir Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani.

Ajami, 36, who was not present in court, has been jailed in solitary confinement for almost a year during which he has not seen his family, according to his lawyer Nagib Al Naimi.

“This is a tremendous miscarriage of justice,” Naimi said after the verdict, adding that he would appeal. Ajami faced charges of “inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime”, which carries the death penalty.

Qatar’s penal code provides sentences of five years in prison for criticising the country’s ruler. The Qatari government has backed the armed revolt in Syria, a successful NATO-backed armed uprising in Libya, and street protests that ousted rulers in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.

But freedom of expression is tightly controlled in the country, with self-censorship prevalent among national newspapers and other media outlets. Qatar has no organised political opposition.

In October, Human Rights Watch criticised what it said was a double standard on freedom of expression in Qatar and urged the Emir not to approve a draft media law penalising criticism of the Gulf emirate and its neighbours.