Qatari poet Ibn Al-Dheeb’s life sentence reduced to 15 years on appeal

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Story updated at 19:30 with new comments from Qatar’s Attorney General

Reporting by Julia Mills 

The Court of Appeal in Doha today reduced the life sentence of jailed Qatari Poet Mohammed Ibn Al-Dheeb to 15 years. 

Speaking to Doha News immediately after the judgement was announced, Ibn Al-Dheeb’s lawyer Najib Al-Nuaimi said the result was “still a miscarriage of justice”, and that he would lodge an appeal before the Court of Cassation (Qatar’s Supreme Court) in three weeks’ time, once he had received an explanation of the court’s decision.

Al-Dheeb entered the packed court room this morning handcuffed and wearing a blue prison suit, and surrounded by armed members of the Internal Security Forces.

The presiding judge read the statement of the reduced sentence, but offered no explanation.

As he left the court room flanked by security forces, Al-Dheeb was extremely vocal, shouting loudly at the assembled crowd about the “unfairness” of the judicial system, and muttering insults.  

Al-Nuaimi later said he was not surprised by his client’s outburst, given the pressure the poet is under.

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Al-Dheeb has been held in prison since November 2011, when he was arrested and charged with ‘inciting the overthrow of the regime’. 

At the heart of the case is the question of whether Al-Dheeb had recited his poems in public, which is a legal requirement for proving that he sought to overthrow the regime. Outside the court today, Al-Nuaimi maintained that there is still no evidence of this, and he was therefore “surprised” by the Appeal Court’s decision. 

While studying Arabic literature with a group of students in Cairo on Aug. 24, 2010,  Al-Dheeb was reportedly approached by another Qatari poet, Khalil al-Shabrami.

Al Dheeb’s lawyer had argued that Al-Shabrami provoked him into presenting a poem that was indirectly critical of the ruling family, and the exchange was secretly recorded and uploaded to YouTube. 

Attorney General “disappointed”

However, Qatar’s Attorney General, Ali bin Fetais al-Marri, has told Al Jazeera‘s Stefanie Dekker that he’s disappointed with Al-Dheeb’s sentence reduction.

“We accept the ruling, however we, as Public Prosecution, will resort to the Supreme Court to challenge the judgement, hoping to restore it as was, a life term” he says. “The international community is aware that Qatar respects human rights, but what concerns me in the first place is the Qatari community in such a case. While laying down such legislation, the Qatari Lawmaker keeps in mind that for the benefit of the community, protection of its beliefs and traditions, national security. We like any other state worldwide have our priorities.”

Family disappointed

Several of Al-Dheeb’s friends and family – some of whom who had travelled from Kuwait to attend the hearing – have expressed their disappointment at the 15 year sentence.

But Al-Dheeb’s nephew, Rashid Al-Dheeb, told Doha News that the family remains hopeful that the poet will eventually be pardoned.

He told us that he visited his uncle in prison a month ago, and that the poet is being held on his own, apart from other prisoners. He does however have access to books and a television (but no newspapers) and his morale is high. 

Al-Dheeb’s sentencing has drawn international condemnation from human rights groups, and sparked questions at home about freedom of speech in Qatar.  

Thoughts?

Credit: Top photo shows Al-Dheeb arriving at court this morning; second photo shows Al-Nuaimi speaking outside court. Both photos by Rashid Al-Dheeb 

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