Democracy-preaching Qatar jails poet for life for incitement against regime

Ajami was formerly Qatar's justice minister

DOHA - A Qatari court on Thursday jailed for life a poet accused of incitement against the regime and defaming the Gulf emirate's crown prince, who supported anti-government uprisings in the region, his lawyer said.
"A Qatar court sentenced to life in prison Mohammed al-Ajami, alias Ibn al-Dhib, charged on three counts: incitement against the regime, defamation of the crown prince, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and attacking the constitution," Nejib Naimi said.
He said he would appeal next week against the verdict, which was taken "after six hearings, most of them in secret."
Under the charges against him, the poet was liable to a maximum five years in prison, said the lawyer, who was formerly Qatar's justice minister, stressing that "life in prison only applies in the case of an attempted coup."
Amnesty International said in a statement that the verdict bore "all the hallmarks of an outrageous betrayal of free speech," and called for Ajami's immediate release.
"It is deplorable that Qatar, which likes to paint itself internationally as a country that promotes freedom of expression, is indulging in what appears to be such a flagrant abuse of that right," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's regional director.
The poet was arrested in November 2011, accused of incitement "to overthrow the ruling system" and "insulting the Emir" Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the London-based rights group said.
Amnesty said the charges on which Ajami was convicted were based on the content of his poetry.
His arrest followed the publication of the "Jasmine poem" which criticised governments across the Gulf region, saying "we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite," the statement added.