Qatari poet sentenced to life for poem 'insulting' country's ruler
Washington: A Qatari poet has been sentenced to life in prison on charges of trying to incite the overthrow of the emirate's ruling family.
According to lawyer Najeeb al-Nuaimi, the court handed down the sentence to Muhammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, who has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest in November 2011, reports the Wall Street Journal.
There was, however, no official confirmation of the poet's sentencing. Nuaimi said he plans to appeal the sentence, and added that his client didn't receive a fair trial.
Qatar's legislative body, the Shura Council, approved a new draft media law in June that prohibits the publication of material deemed to be offensive to the ruling family or endangering state security. Violators could face fines of as much as 275,000 dollars if they are found guilty.
"This is most awkward for Qatar, which has been embarking on a very public foreign policy, trying to ride the wave of the Arab Spring for its own political capital but yet when problems develop in its own backyard, and you have a dissenting voice, you have the hypocrisy exposed," said Christopher Davidson, an expert on Middle East politics at Durham University, UK.
Nuaimi said Ajami was sentenced after being charged with encouraging others to overthrow the regime, claiming the emir was misusing the constitution and being critical of the crown prince in a poem. In his poem, which was deemed to be insulting to Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Ajami used swear words that were viewed by the court as personally attacking the emir, his lawyer said.
The poem also referred to a sheik playing PlayStation, interpreted as a derogatory reference to the Crown Prince Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Qatar, which hosts a large US military base, has sought to maintain strong relations with the West.
It has brokered peace deals in recent years, including in Sudan and Lebanon, and this month sponsored talks in Doha between elements of the Syrian opposition. It has also agreed to let the Taliban open an office in the Qatari capital.