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Northwestern University calls for Qatari poet’s release as appeal pends

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Faculty at Illinois-based Northwestern University have issued a call for “the full pardon and immediate release” of Qatari poet Mohammed Al-Ajami, who has been jailed here since 2011.

NU’s Faculty Senate, which represents the university’s academic staff both at home and at its Qatar campus, voted on and passed a motion on May 1 in support of Al-Ajami, popularly know by the name Ibn Al Dheeb. The statement said:

“It is resolved that the Faculty Senate calls for the full pardon and immediate release of Mohammed ibn al-Dheeb [al-Ajami] and supports freedom of intellectual and artistic expression for the people of Qatar.”

Ibn Al Dheeb was sentenced to life in prison last November for “inciting to overthrow the regime” and “insulting the Emir” with his poetry. But on appeal, that sentence was reduced to 15 years in jail.

His lawyer, former justice minister Najib Al-Nuaimi, has lodged a further appeal to that sentence. He told Doha News yesterday that Qatar’s Court of Cassation, the country’s highest judicial body, has agreed to consider it. However, he said he has been waiting for a date to deliver his oral arguments for six weeks.

Northwestern University, which has a campus here at Education City in partnership with Qatar Foundation, has said the case of Ibn Al Dheeb is one of intellectual and artistic expression protected by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Faculty representatives at Northwestern University in Qatar have declined to comment on the issue, although a school spokesperson noted the motion originated at NU’s main campus in Evanston. 

UPDATE | May 12, 2013

According to the minutes of a February Faculty Senate meeting, NU-Q faculty members agreed with the motion, but added:

The administration and faculty at NUQ work hard on matters of freedom of expression every day, and will continue to do so, but there is concern that anyone can find themselves is a situation similar to that of the poet.

Thus, the NU-Q faculty would not be supporting the motion because of a fear that it would do “more harm than good,” the Northwestern Chronicle reports.

Here’s the full motion:


Credit: Photo by Daniel M. Reck

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