Updated at 2:45pm on March 16 with statement from Amnesty
A hashtag has erupted on Twitter tonight, congratulating Qatari poet Mohammed Rashid Al-Ajami for gaining his freedom after being jailed for nearly five years.
Thousands of tweets are pouring in on #خروج_محمد_بن_الذيب (Mohammed Ibn Al Dheeb’s release), reporting that Qatar’s Emir has pardoned him.
The man, who also goes by Ibn Al-Dheeb, was jailed for “inciting to overthrow the regime” and convicted in 2012, sending “shockwaves across the Gulf.”
According to Abdullah Al Athbah, editor-in-chief of Al Arab, Al-Ajami is being released on Sheikh Tamim’s orders through the intercession of the chief of the poet’s Al-Ajman tribe, Khalid bin Rakan al-Ajami.
However, Al-Ajami’s lawyer, former justice minister Najeeb Al Nauimi, told Doha News that he could not confirm the pardon until he hears it from the poet himself, or one of his family members.
News of the pardon comes just weeks after the third anniversary of Qatar’s Court of Appeal decision to reduce the sentence of Mohammed Rashid Al-Ajami from life imprisonment to 15 years behind bars.
The Qatari poet was arrested in 2011 over a YouTube video in which he recited a poem that was indirectly critical of his country’s ruling family.
For years, Al Nauimi has argued that there is no evidence to support the charges against the poet, which also included “insulting the Emir.”
The case has garnered international attention and protests, with the poet’s supporters calling Al-Ajami’s detention “an open wound.”
And previously, Farida Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on cultural rights, criticized the sentence, saying it “ is disproportionate and amounts to political censorship to art and expression.”
Translation: Incarcerating a poet made beautiful, civilized Qatar a medieval country. This step, although very late, is better than depriving this man of his freedom forever.
However, here in Qatar, many nationals had expressed support for the poet’s detention.
And while several tweets tonight involved well wishes for Al-Ajami, some were not pleased about the news of the pardon:
مابغيت ادعي هالدعوه لأن وراه عجوز مسكينه مالها ذنب في خبال ولدها
والا هو نقص على ظاهر الدنيا وباطنها
— دوسري جداً (@dosry_2) March 15, 2016
Translation: I didn’t want to make this prayer (that he would not be pardoned) only because he has an old mother who is not to blame for her son’s recklessness and insolence. As for him, he’s a foul being on and under earth.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International released a statement hailing Al-Ajami’s release, saying the group had spoken to relatives who confirmed the pardon.
It also said it viewed a video of his apparently release, which has been circulating on social media:
In the statement, James Lynch, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program, called the detention “absurd.”
“We hope that the authorities will take the opportunity of this release to review Qatar’s criminal justice system and ensure that such flagrant violations of the right to freedom of expression are not repeated. This case has been a blight on Qatar’s international reputation.”
The group added that the terms of Al Ajami’s release remain unclear, saying “It is essential that the authorities do not impose conditions on (the) peaceful exercise of his rights, including his right to freedom of expression. Prisoners of conscience should be released immediately and unconditionally.”
Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Abdullah Al-Athbah is editor-in-chief of Al Arab newspaper, not Al Sharq.