Qatar: imprisoned poet appeals life sentence

A Qatari poet who has been sentenced to life in prison for insulting the Emir has been granted an appeal now scheduled for Jan. 27, according to his lawyer. Muhammad al-Ajami, 36, was imprisoned in November 2011 after a judge found him guilty of calling for the overthrow of the government of the Gulf sate. Al-Ajami was studying literature at Cairo University when the Tunisian revolution broke out in December 2010. Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, al-Ajami wrote a short poem, “Tunisian Jasmine,” which he recited to private audiences. The audio of one performance appeared on YouTube, apparently without al-Ajami’s knowledge. Al-Ajami was arrested months later when Qatari authorities took note of the video, and held in solitary confinement for nearly a year before being brought to trial. He was charged with “insulting” Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and “inciting to overthrow the ruling system”—an offense that carries the death penalty. Qatar’s Court of First Instance sentenced him to a life term on Nov. 29, 2011. The sentence will now be reviewed by Qatar’s Court of Appeal. (Al-Jazeera, Dec. 29; Consortium News, Dec. 12)

A petition for al-Ajami’s freedom online at RootsAction quotes a verse from the offending poem:

Oh revolutionary, sing the praises of the struggle with the blood of the people
In the soul of the free carve the values of revolt
And to those holding the shroud of the dead tell
That every victory also bears its ordeals