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Tue 30 Oct 2012 02:29 PM

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Rights group calls on Qatar to release activist

Amnesty International says poet Mohammed Al Ajami is “prisoner of conscience”

Rights group calls on Qatar to release activist
(Image for illustrative purposes)

Amnesty International has called on Qatar to release a poet detained in jail for a year over alleged threats to insult the Emir and inciting intent to overthrow the ruling family.

The London-headquartered body urged authorities in the Gulf state to release Mohammed Al Ajami, who was arrested last year after writing a poem entitled 'Jasmine Poem', which broadly criticised Gulf governments in the wake of the Arab Spring.

“Mohammed Al Ajami has now spent almost a year behind bars in solitary confinement apparently solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression,” Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International for MENA, said.

“If that is the case, he would be considered a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately and conditionally,” he added.

Written in 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring protests, Al Ajami’s poem says “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite”. He was arrested in November and later reportedly charged with “inciting to overthrow the ruling system” and “insulting the Emir”.

Al Ajami could face the death penalty if found guilty of inciting to overthrow the ruling system while insulting the Emir carries a five-year prison sentence, Amnesty International said.

“Qatari authorities must ensure that legal proceedings against Al Ajami are carried out in accordance with international fair trial standards and that any charges which relate solely to peaceful criticism, even if it is of the highest authority in the country, are dropped,” said Luther.

Qatar, the richest country in the world per capita, has avoided the political unrest that has toppled four Arab heads of state since last year.

Fellow GCC state UAE has arrested around 62 dissidents in recent months. The Gulf state in July said it was investigating a foreign-linked group planning “crimes against the security of the state”.