Friday, 30 November 2012

Qatari poet gets life sentence in secret trial

Published Thursday, November 29, 2012
A Qatari poet was sentenced to life imprisonment on Thursday on charges of insulting the emir of the small Gulf state in a trial shrouded in secrecy.

Mohammad Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami was arrested on 16 November 2011 on charges of “insulting” the emir of Qatar and “inciting to overthrow the ruling system,” AFP reported.

Ibn al-Dheeb’s lawyer, Nagib al-Naimi, confirmed the court’s sentence, and indicated that he would appeal the verdict. Al-Naimi said his client has been jailed in solitary confinement for almost a year during which he has not seen his family.

According to activists, the evidence used by the prosecution against Ibn al-Dheeb centered on his “Jasmine poem,” written in 2010 in support of the Tunisian uprising.

The insult charges appear to be based on the verse: "we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive" regimes. The poem can be heard below:

A document allegedly obtained from the court detailing Ibn al-Dheeb’s sentence was circulating online on Thursday, sparking outrage from advocates.
Amnesty also denounced irregularities in Ibn al-Dheeb’s trial, since court sessions were reportedly “held in secret.”

Al-Naimi was reportedly barred from attending one of the court sessions, and had to provide a written defense, Amnesty reported.

Ibn al-Dheeb’s ruling stands in stark contrast to Qatari ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani public advocacy for freedom of expression. He set up the Doha Centre for Media Freedom in to promote press freedom in 2008.

But freedom of expression is strictly controlled in the oil-rich nation, which is a close ally of the United States.

"Inciting to overthrow the regime" is a charge punishable by death in Qatar, while "insulting the emir" carries a five-year prison sentence, the watchdogs said.

Human Rights Watch denounced Ibn al-Dheeb’s incarceration as “further evidence of Qatar's double standard on freedom of expression."

(Al-Akhbar, AFP, Reuters)

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