UN human rights office concerned about Qatari poet sentenced to life in prison

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani addresses the General Assembly. UN Photo/Marco Castro

8 January 2013 – The United Nations human rights office today voiced concern over the situation of Mohammed Al Ajami, a renowned Qatari poet who is serving a life sentence for a poem considered offensive to the nation’s symbols.

“We are concerned by the fairness of his trial, including the right to counsel,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Cécile Pouilly, told reporters in Geneva.

On 29 November, a Qatari court ruled that Mr. al Ajami, who is also known as Ibn al Dheeb, insulted the nation’s symbols and encouraged the overthrow of its ruling system, according to OHCHR. There have also been reports that Mr. al Ajami has spent many months in solitary confinement and remains there despite a court order to place him under normal conditions.

“The trial has been marred by a number of procedural irregularities and several of the sessions were held in camera. The initial statement of the defendant was allegedly tampered with to wrongly incriminate him for reciting his poem in public,” Ms. Pouilly said.

She noted that the second appeal for the poet’s sentencing is scheduled for 27 January, and that OHCHR would continue to monitor the situation closely.

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