Jailed Qatari poet to appeal life sentence

By David Poort, Al Jazeera
Accused of calling for the overthrow of the Qatari government, Muhammad al-Ajami to appeal his life sentence.

A Qatari poet who has been sentenced to life in prison for insulting the Emir of Qatar and spreading incendiary material has been granted an appeal, according to his lawyer.

Muhammad al-Ajami, 36, was jailed in November 2011 after an investigative judge found him guilty of calling for the overthrow of the government of the Gulf sate.

Al-Ajami's lawyer, Dr Najeeb al-Nuaimi, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that his client's case will be brought before of the Court of Appeal on January 27 and that both the prosecution and the defence will present oral arguments.

However, al-Nuaimi said that his special request that al-Ajami be released on bail was rejected by the court without motivation.

"Still, I put all my confidence on the appeals court as they are actually independent. We were very angry but now I'm calm as I am confident that we will get a fair review of the case," al-Nuaimi, who is Qatar's former justice minister, told Al Jazeera.

Both the Court of First Instance and the Qatari Justice ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

Maximum sentence

After his arrest in 2011, al-Ajami was charged for encouraging the overthrow of the government of Qatar, accusing the Emir of misusing the county's constitution and for criticising the country's crown prince.

Among other things, al-Ajami was accused of writing and spreading a poem about the Tunisian uprising in which he allegedly wrote: "... we are all Tunisians in the face of repressive elites", his lawyer told Al Jazeera.

Qatar's Court of First Instance sentenced al-Ajami to life in prison on November 29, 2011, handing down the maximum sentence allowed under article 136 of Qatar’s criminal law, which addresses attempts to overthrow the government.

The Court of Appeal will now review al-Ajami's life sentence, as handed out by the first instance court as well as the written documentation handed over by al-Nuaimi and the prosecution.

"The first instance court was very aggressive toward my client and they did not give me access to the court," al-Nuaimi said on Sunday.

"To my great surprise, the initial investigative judge fulfilled two roles in this case as he also became the chairman of the court that sentenced my client to life in prison. This is illegal under Qatari law."

Al-Nuaimi said he will take the case to Qatar's Supreme Court if the Court of Appeal upholds al-Ajami's life sentence.

"If that also doesn't work we will take this case to an international court, either in The Hague or in Belgium or the US. There are plenty of institutions that would hear our case," al-Nuaimi said.

"But I don't think it will come to that. I have to be positive."






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