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Monday, March 8, 2021

Supreme court rules against Qatari poet, upholding 15-year jail term

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ibn-aldheeb

Updated with comments from the director of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom

The country’s highest court has upheld a 15-year prison sentence for a jailed Qatari poet convicted of inciting the overthrow of the government, despite hearing a final appeal from his lawyer on Monday.

According to lawyer Najeeb al-Nauimi, the Court of Cassation released its one-sentence ruling shortly after 1pm.

“There is no justice,” he told Doha News. “Our judicial system cannot be trusted.”

Earlier in the day, al-Nauimi made a 10-minute appeal to the court, arguing that there was no evidence to support the charges against Mohammed Rashid al-Ajami and that a retrial, coupled with a proper investigation, would prove his innocence.

Al-Ajami – who goes by the name Mohammed Ibn Al-Dheeb in his poetry – was not present at Monday’s hearing before the eight-judge panel, which represented his final avenue of appeal within the justice system.

Al-Nauimi conceded that Ibn Al-Dheeb could still seek a pardon from the Emir, but said such a request would have to be pursued by his family, not lawyers.

The case

The charges stem from an incident in 2010, when Ibn Al-Dheeb was studying Arabic literature in Cairo with a group of friends. He was allegedly approached by another Qatari poet named Khalil al-Shabrami, who provoked Ibn Al-Dheeb into presenting a poem indirectly critical of this country’s ruling family.

The exchange was recorded and later published on YouTube.

Qatari authorities arrested Ibn Al-Dheeb in November 2011 and charged him with “inciting to overthrow the regime” and “insulting the Emir.” Originally sentenced to life in prison, Ibn Al-Dheeb’s term was reduced to 15 years in February by Qatar’s Court of Appeals.

At the time, Qatar’s attorney general, Ali bin Fetais al-Marri, denounced the ruling, telling Al Jazeera that the case “is well-founded in law; it is a totally solid case. There is an offense culpable under the law, the perpetrator confessed of the offense.”

The challenge

Al-Nauimi – a former Qatar justice minister – said that there are several problems with the prosecution’s case against Ibn Al-Dheeb. The main issue is the lack of evidence showing that the poem was recited in public, which is a legal requirement to prove the charge of inciting the overthrow of the government. Ibn Al-Dheeb’s supporters say his remarks were made during a private gathering and uploaded to YouTube without his knowledge.

Al-Nauimi also said Ibn Al-Dheeb signed a false confession, admitting he read the poem in front of the media, following two hours of interrogations conducted without the presence of a lawyer.

“He was tired” and signed the papers presented to him, Al-Nauimi said. He added that there is nothing to corroborate the accusation that the poem was presented in public.

“Give me one photograph. Give me one TV (clip). One national newspaper. Give me anything. They have no proof.”

Reaction

Human rights activists called Monday’s ruling “disappointing” and said it reflects poorly on a country trying to brand itself as a center for media and artistic freedom in the Gulf.

Nick McGeehan, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said it is very difficult to see how the evidence released could support the charges. Furthermore, he noted Ibn Al-Dheeb’s comments were contained in the context of a piece of poetry, rather than a public manifesto.

“He’s not a political figure. He’s a poet. And poets use language in an entirely different way than classic political figures,” McGeehan told Doha News.

He added that Qatar – which recently unveiled several controversial art installations – could face a backlash.

“Artists will, and should, feel extremely uncomfortable having their work exhibited in a country that treats its artists in this manner.”

 

Journalists in the region are also likely to take note of the “harsh sentence” and temper their reporting accordingly, said Jan Keulen, director of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom.

He added that there was minimal coverage of the case in local newspapers, which he said he finds “very strange” considering it is a Qatar story that made international headlines.

“We regret the self-censorship and climate of fear this sentence provokes,” Keulen told Doha News the day after the verdict was released.

Keulen added that the court’s ruling could undermine his organization’s relationships with the groups it partners with around the world.

Amnesty International researcher James Lynch said that from his organization’s perspective, it is irrelevant whether Ibn Al-Dheeb made his comments in public or private.

“He should be allowed to recite a poem to anyone,” Lynch said in an interview with Doha News. “There shouldn’t have been a case in the first place … Causing offense is not a crime.”

Implications

Because Ibn Al-Dheeb’s case was heard before the country’s highest court, it has set a precedence for future proceedings, Al-Nauimi said. That means individuals charged with similar crimes could face the same “very, very harsh” sentence handed down to Ibn Al-Dheeb, he added.

Al-Nauimi said his client has not yet learned of the court’s final ruling and plans to share the news with Ibn Al-Dheeb when he is permitted to visit him, likely next Monday.

Thoughts?

29 COMMENTS

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ngourlay
ngourlay
7 years ago

And spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.

Qatar’s leaders will need a few more years before they are confident enough to sit back and watch while citizens demand their demise.

desertCard
desertCard
7 years ago
Reply to  ngourlay

Huh?

Qatari
Qatari
7 years ago
Reply to  ngourlay

only the mentally ill will want that…
and even if the government accepted in the future (which is hardly believable)
the people will never let it happen.

Ibrahim
Ibrahim
7 years ago
Reply to  ngourlay

Well dear Ngourlay, I am confident that it will be WAY less than years before you get deported from the country.

Still not satisfied
Still not satisfied
7 years ago

Why has he been in prison from conviction through the appeals process while those convicted of manslaughter in the Villaggio fire are free, even free to leave the country, while they appeal? Why are some in jail/prison while they await trial (before conviction and sometimes without charge) but others are not? Is there a standard being applied or is it at the whim of the jailers, court or others?

Guest
Guest
7 years ago

.

MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago

I would like to say something but I am scared of the Qatar government

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

A real man fears only his maker 😉

MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago
Reply to  Abdulrahman

I’ll take my chances with the maker but the Qatar government can put you in jail for real….
Did ever mention what lovely people they have in the government and what a fantastic job they all do. God bless them all.

DavidRSS8
DavidRSS8
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

And do forget what a fantastic job they are doing with the traffic and infrastructure. I am expecting amazing to just continue forever.

MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

I hope it was the government that voted me down….

Abdulrahman
Abdulrahman
7 years ago

Oh, there is more to it than that, but I’d better not say anything lest we get a visit at dawn 😉

Anon
Anon
7 years ago

If you’re that insulted by a poem, you’re more thin-skinned and insecure than I thought it was possible to be…..the reaction is akin to the totalitarian leaders of old.

Qatari
Qatari
7 years ago

Ibn al theeb desserves this sentencing and more in my opinion.. no one is as rude as him and don’t deserve to have all the offering Qatar and its people gave to him.

And the story is not complete, he has been imporsoned many times for his actions and still didn’t think of what he did wrong. and he posted some on youtube with him staring at the camera and wanting it to be leaked.

and this comment:
“He was tired” and signed the papers presented to him, Al-Nauimi said. He added that there is nothing to corroborate the accusation that the poem was presented in public.

really he was tired? ya I’ll believe that when pigs fly.

and what he did is a huge violation! I mean aren’t the west all against hate crime?! this is regarded as a hate crime directed at the Emir (allah yi7aftha).
If he was talking about things that is seen as a threat to the people then he would be innocent but just talking crap with no purpose except to damage things then he deserves to pay the price. and he knew it way before when they punished him many times.

MIMH
MIMH
7 years ago
Reply to  Qatari

If you are going to put people in jail for being rude, then there are a lot of residents and locals in Qatar who will spend many years in jail…..

This man seems to be to be a bit of an idiot, again being stupid is not really justifcation for jailing someone.

Qatari
Qatari
7 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

ok so imagine this…

your mom raised you, paid for your education, healthcare, fed you etc… all for free
then you go talking about your mom after she did all those good things and spread lies like beating you abusing you etc.. and people believed your lies.
wouldn’t your mom technically be wronged? or dishonored???

and the thing is people would not believe all the good she did but the lies you spread just for the heck of it or to be seen as a victim and to have more attention…

blow it up into a country/ government… what would the reaction of the world be about our kind, loving and inspiring emir?
ok rude is such a small term but I’m trying to be respectful in saying he was rude but he is much more worse than rude.

Mohammed
Mohammed
7 years ago
Reply to  Qatari

You have an absolutely distorted perspective on this.
Ibn al-theeb was jailed for his Arab Spring poem, when he called the gulf governments corrupt. He has made some insults (and not to the emir), but does that deserve being
taken away from your children (one of which was born when he was in jail), and your family?
His imprisonment is a blatant insult to our freedom of expression. If we believe the government is corrupt, we should feel free to say that and not cower in fear from our so-called “kind, loving and inspiring” emir.

Qatari
Qatari
7 years ago
Reply to  Mohammed

excuse me but we heard all of his poems [ it wasn’t one but many] and in one of them he said the Emir’s name and described him as something disgustingly disrespectful. And it wasnt one poem it was many and yes he deserves to be taken away from his children its best for the people and the children, because he would be raising his children with hate and lies.

and no freedom of expression is not acceptable if it is used in this way, where it is not benefiting the people or the country.

ya if the government is corrupt and if it isn’t and all he’s doing is spreading lies??

and listen dude the people are asking for a harsher sentencing so if the government was indeed corrupt they wouldn’t have supported his sentencing.

Mohammed
Mohammed
7 years ago
Reply to  Qatari

“the people are asking for a harsher sentence”? What people? Do you think most Qataris agree with you? For a Qatari, the sentence is a threat to their own freedom of speech. And you claim that he’s spreading lies. I can say the same thing to you; you’re spreading lies and propaganda supporting the legislation, therefore you must be imprisoned, so that you don’t spread this hateful message against Qatari’s and thus protect our citizens from hate.

Aisha
Aisha
7 years ago
Reply to  Mohammed

with all do respect you should listen to the poem then argue cuz you have no idea what your talking about ?

Qatari
Qatari
7 years ago
Reply to  Mohammed

dude let me be more clear…

Freedom of Speech is only acceptable when there is a threat to the people of Qatar… if there is hate crime such as this then it does not categorized as freedom of speech since he is disrupting the peace.

and have you read the poem? if thats not enough proof I don’t know what is.

for a Qatari, the sentence is a threat to their own freedom of speech..

you’ll only see this as a threat if you have nonsense to say just like ibn al theeb if you have something that benefits the country it wouldn’t be a threat would it?

Aisha
Aisha
7 years ago

well truth be told he deserve what he got,what he said is disgusting

Mohammed
Mohammed
7 years ago
Reply to  Aisha

Does his children deserve losing their father too? Or is that a necessary evil? Is life in prison an appropriate ‘punishment’ for verbal offense?

Aisha
Aisha
7 years ago
Reply to  Mohammed

was his children in mind when he wrote this ridiculous poem? and no his kids don’t deserve any of that

Mohammed
Mohammed
7 years ago
Reply to  Aisha

He shouldn’t have any legislative punishment! The government doesn’t exist to dictate what we can or cannot say, even if we find it offensive. Aside from that, once a government has the sort of power to imprison citizens based on what they say, you’re inevitably opening the legislation to corruption, because anyone can claim someone said something offensive and fabricate the evidence.

Aisha
Aisha
7 years ago
Reply to  Mohammed

OK tell me this why would he do this ? whats the reason behind it ? and if you think a guy like him shouldn’t be punished then i don’t know what your thinking haven’t you heard the poem

Aisha
Aisha
7 years ago
Reply to  Mohammed

what kind of punishment do you think is better ? also if he doesn’t go to jail then i know for a fact people will take matters in to their own hands and god knows what will happen …..

Net-guy
Net-guy
7 years ago

few countries offer “freedom of speech”…..every non-qatari has had to bite their tongue, probably on more than one occassion……..The qatari government has it’s hands full, that is for certain and how to handle the issues are no small task…You may have lived here for a few months or many years, the culture and way of life here may be different than in your own country..But at some point you have chose to be here. Every expat owes it to the country they are living to bow gracefully to the culture and way of life for the country in which you find yourself…Qatar has come along way and yes it has a long way to go..No matter how or what the Qatari leaders decide up, one fact is true ” You can’t please all the people all the time”…

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