In honor of International Human Rights Day 2012, the Doha Centre for Media Freedom broke its silence on the case of the Qatari poet who was sentenced to life in prison last month for “inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime.”
In remarks made at an Al Jazeera English event today commemorating human rights day, DCMF Director Jan Keulen said:
A few weeks ago a Qatari poet was sentenced to life imprisonment because of a poem he had written. We are not going to make any specific comments regarding the case as the original sentence has been appealed. But obviously we are highly concerned about this case and the effects it may have on freedom of expression and hence media freedom in this country.
Prominent international human rights organisations and the international media reported extensively on this case but the Qatari media remained silent. Including until now, I must admit, the Doha Centre for Media Freedom. But today is the day, I feel, to speak out and to break the barriers of fear. We still don’t know all the details about this particular case, but we feel local media failed their mission and should be able to inform the general public in this country. To inform and be informed: it is simply a question of basic human rights.
Keulen told Doha News that he broke his silence on the issue because “it would be very strange celebrating human rights day and to not mention it.”
He stressed, however, that his criticism is of the silence of local media and not of the particular details surrounding Mohammed al-Ajami’s case.
Keulen added that some members of the local media who were present at the event congratulated him for breaking the taboo and speaking about the sentencing.
Al-Ajami, who uses the name Ibn Al-Dheeb for his poetry, was arrested in November 2011 after engaging in poetic “duels” with fellow Qatari poet Khalil al-Shabrami multiple times in 2010, and is alleged to have insulted the Emir and other members of the ruling family during these sessions, Human Rights Watch states.
His appeal is expected to be heard later this month.
Credit: Photo by Nasser Al-Saadi