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Imprisoned for Art

Mohammed al-Ajami

UPDATE: After serving four years in prison of his original life sentence, Mohammed al-Ajami was released in Qatar on March 16, 2016, and is confirmed to be safe at home with his family. THANK YOU to everyone who helped in this campaign!

 

Mohammed al-Ajami is a Qatari poet originally sentenced to life imprisonment in solitary confinement in November 2012 over the content of his work. In 2013 this charge was reduced to a 15 year term in response to widespread protests and condemnation from international organizations. The charges of “inciting to overthrow the ruling system” and “criticizing the Emir” raised against al-Ajami stem from the content of two of his poems.

The first poem, never officially published, was read at a private gathering of poets at al-Ajami’s home in Doha. A recording of the untitled poem was posted online and later described by representatives of Qatar’s Ministry of Culture as a veiled call to challenge the authority and competence of the state.

The second poem, written in 2011, is called “Tunisian Jasmine” and expressed sympathy for Arab Spring protestors in Tunisia. The poem did not specifically mention Qatar, which was one of the few Arab countries with no significant protests at the time.

After a video of the private reading was posted online, al-Ajami was summoned by state security officials and charged in a deeply flawed trial with “inciting to overthrow the ruling system” and “criticizing the Emir,” and given a life sentence in prison which was later reduced to a 15 year term.

An excerpt from “Tunisian Jasmine” is below:

This question that keeps you up at night—
its answer won’t be found
on any of the official channels…
Why, why do these regimes
import everything from the West—
everything but the rule of law, that is,
and everything but freedom?

Mohammed al-Ajami is currently imprisoned in Qatar’s capital of Doha, where he is scheduled to remain until November 2027.

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