Last updated: 25 February, 2013

Qatar cuts jail term for maverick poet to 15 years

A Qatari appeals court on Monday reduced to 15 years the prison sentence handed to a poet accused of incitement against the regime after a lower court had jailed him for life, his lawyer said.

“My client was sentenced today to 15 years in prison,” Mohammed Nejib al-Naimi told AFP, adding that the case will now be taken to the court of cassation for the final decision.

Mohammed al-Ajami was arrested after the publication of his “Jasmine poem,” which criticised governments across the Gulf region in the wake of crackdowns on the Arab Spring uprisings, with the line “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite.”

In a clear reference to Qatar, home to a major US base, he wrote: “I hope that change would come in countries whose ignorant leaders believe that glory belies in US forces.”

Naimi charged that “the appeals court was apparently politicised and does not differ much from the court of first instance.”

Throughout the trial, the lawyer has insisted that “there was no evidence Ajami had recited the poem he is being tried for in public,” a key claim by the prosecution, and that he only read it “at his apartment in Cairo”.

Monday’s hearing was attended by human rights officials, according to the lawyer who said he meets with his client once every week.

Naimi said his demand from court was to have the defendant re-interrogated by the public prosecution.

But Qatar’s chief prosecutor Ali bin Fetais al-Marri said he will try to restore the earlier tougher sentence.

“We accept the ruling, however we as public prosecution, will resort to the Supreme Court to challenge the judgement, hoping to restore it as was, a life term,” Al-Jazeera English television channel quoted him as saying in a statement issued in English.

“However, in any case, we will honour the say of the court.”

Amnesty International has said that Ajami, who was arrested in November 2011, is accused of incitement “to overthrow the ruling system” and “insulting the emir” Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Naimi, a former Qatari justice minister, said that according to the charges against his client he was liable to a maximum of five years in jail.

Gas-rich Qatar, an absolute monarchy, was not only spared a wave of Arab Spring uprisings rocking the region since 2010, but has also voiced support for the pro-democracy movements mainly through its influential Al-Jazeera satellite channel.