x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Qatari poet slams justice system after life sentence reduced

Muhammad ibn Al Dheeb Al Ajami's life sentence is cut to 15 years but the poet plans to appeal to get the conviction of insulting the emir dropped. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

An appeals court in Qatar today reduced the sentence of a jailed poet from a life term to 15 years for a verse considered offensive to the country's ruler.

Muhammad ibn Al Dheeb Al Ajami was convicted in November of inciting the overthrow of the regime and insulting the emir after he read the poem Tunisian Jasmine at a private gathering in Cairo in 2010 was posted on YouTube.

Al Ajami, known in his poetry simply as Ibn Al Dheeb, was studying Arabic literature at Cairo University when the incident took place.

Despite the reduction in his sentence, the poet denounced Qatar's judicial system in court.

Al Ajami's lawyer, Qatar's former justice minister Nabeel Al Nuaimi, told Doha News that the verdict was "a miscarriage of justice" and his client planned to appeal before Qatar's highest court, the Court of Cassation.

The defence had argued that the video was posted without his client's knowledge, that the event had taken place in private, and that the poet was encouraged to read it by another member of the gathering.

Mr Al Nuaimi had also complained about procedural issues with the legal proceeding, including a six-month delay before charging Al Ajami after his arrest, according to local media reports.

In October, Amnesty International raised similar concerns about the trial and called Al Ajami a "possible prisoner of conscience", saying he "must be released immediately".