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World Poetry Day 2016: Take Action for Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami

Friday 11 March 2016 - 12:52pm

AlajamiMohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-‘Ajami, a Qatari poet, is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence in the Central Prison, in Doha, Qatar, simply for writing and reciting poems. Al-‘Ajami was arrested in Doha on 16 November 2011 after being summoned by state security. He was reportedly charged two days later with ‘inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime’ and ‘criticising the Emir’ for two of his poems. The first poem, ‘The Cairo Poem’, was performed in private in his apartment in Cairo, Egypt, more than a year earlier. The recital was recorded and uploaded to YouTube without his knowledge. According to al-‘Ajami’s lawyer, Dr. Najeeb al-Nauimi, a former justice minister in Qatar, the poem was recited in a private setting and thus violated no law. The second poem, ‘Tunisian Jasmine,’ written in 2011, expresses support for the uprising there, and was also recorded and posted online.

Al-‘Ajami’s trial did not meet international standards of fairness. He was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment after a trial – held in secret and repeatedly postponed – where the investigating judge, a non-Qatari, was also the chief judge. The Emir appoints all judges on recommendation from the Supreme Judicial Council: 75 per cent of judges are foreign nationals, dependent on residency permits, a situation which violates international standards on the independence of the judiciary.

On 29 November 2012, Mohammed al-‘Ajami was sentenced to life imprisonment in a two-line judgement. Al-‘Ajami was not present for his sentencing. On 25 February 2013, al-‘Ajami’s sentence was reduced to 15 years. Following the court’s latest ruling, al-Ajami’s only legal recourse is to be pardoned by the Emir.

Al-‘Ajami is detained in Doha’s Central Prison, where he has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest. Al-‘Ajami is an honorary member of PEN American Center, German PEN, Austrian PEN and English PEN. PEN International considers al-‘Ajami to be imprisoned in violation of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.


Please send appeals:

  • Protesting the continued imprisonment of poet Mohammed al-‘Ajami, solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression;
  • Urging the Qatari authorities to immediately and unconditionally release al-‘Ajami;
  • Calling for the decriminalisation of defamation in Qatar;
  • Demanding that, whilst imprisoned, Mohammed al-‘Ajami is allowed to associate with other prisoners, and that restrictions on visits from family, friends, and independent observers are lifted immediately as mandated by UN principles;
  • Urging Qatar to accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights without delay.

Send appeals to:

Emir of the State of Qatar
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani
PO Box 923
State of Qatar
Salutation: His Excellency

Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior of Qatar
Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani
Minister of the Interior
PO Box 920
Doha, State of Qatar
Salutation: His Excellency

(And copies to)
Attorney General
Dr Ali bin Fetais Al Marri
PO Box 705
Doha, State of Qatar
Fax: +974 4484 3211

We recommend that you send a copy of your appeals via the diplomatic representative for Qatar in your country. Contact details for embassies can be found here.

Social media:

Suggested tweet: #Qatar: Release unfairly imprisoned poet Mohammed al-‘Ajami #freealajami @pen_int {insert link to PEN action paper}


PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting Mohammed al-‘Ajami’s case and the situation for freedom of expression in Qatar;
  • Organise public events, stage readings, press conferences or campaigns;
  • Share information about Qatar and your campaigning for Mohammed al-‘Ajami via social media.


  • Elect Mohammed al-‘Ajami as an Honorary Members of your Centre and by doing so provide long-term support and advocacy for him and his family. For details of the PEN International Honorary Membership scheme, read the PEN WiPC Guide to Defending Writers Under Attack (Part V, pgs15-20). Please let PEN International know if you do so and we will ensure that your centre is networked with other Centres working on his case.

For further information please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones: | t. + 44 (0) 20 7405 0338 | PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill Mews, London, SE1 2AN


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