Appeals court hears arguments in Qatari poet’s case, to pass judgment next month

Arguments were heard this morning regarding the legality of the life sentence handed to a Qatari poet charged with inciting to overthrow the government

The Court of Appeals will decide on Feb. 25 whether to uphold or overturn the verdict against Mohammed Rashid al-Ajami, who goes by the poetic name Mohammed Ibn Al-Dheeb, which a lower court ruled on in November. 

The initial prosecution of Al-Dheeb was rife with inconsistencies, but at the heart of the case is whether he recited his poems in public, which is a requirement for proving that he “sought to overthrow the regime,” his lawyer said.

While studying Arabic literature with a group of students in Cairo on Aug. 24, 2010, Al-Dheeb was reportedly approached by another Qatari poet named Khalil al-Shabrami. His lawyer argues that Al-Shabrami provoked Al-Dheeb into presenting a poem that was indirectly critical of the ruling family, and the exchange was secretly recorded and uploaded to YouTube. 

“Prosecutors are relying on something from the internet and he’s not even being accused of putting it on the internet,” Najeeb al-Nuaimi told Doha News.

Outbursts

Ibn Al-Dheeb appeared to be his own worst enemy during today’s court arguments, al-Nuaimi added.

“Mohammed spoiled my appeal – he was very angry,” he said, detailing some of Al-Dheeb’s court outbursts, including a rant about Qatar’s involvement in Libya. The poet also referred to the ruling family, saying the Emir was like his father, and his sons were his friends.

“Tamim is my friend – I have nothing against them,” he said, referring to Qatar’s heir apparent, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani.

International attention

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

Jaber Almarri, coordinator for the Doha Centre of Media Freedom, was in attendance at today’s hearing. Saying freedom of expression has no boundaries, he told Doha News “it is a right for everyone here in Qatar.” He also expressed disappointment at the lack of turnout of local media to the hearing.

“I don’t see any Qatari media coming,” he said. “They should have and it’s a wrong way to go about it (by not coming).”

If the appeals court upholds Ibn Al-Dheeb’s life sentence verdict, which Al-Nuami said in Qatar equates to some 20 years in jail, the next step is to appeal to Qatar’s Supreme Court.

UPDATE | 9pm 

Al Jazeera English was also at the hearing this morning and put together a report about the jailed Qatari poet:

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by @ksa2800

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