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Free Speech in Qatar: "You Can't Talk Everythings"

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The day after the sentencing, in response to a reporter's question, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said that the U.S. is "obviously concerned" and "seeking additional information."  A search of the State Dept. website in mid-December showed no further comment.  

Coverage of the sentencing of al-Ajami was uneven.  Associated Press and CNN distributed timely short reports and DemocracyNOW! did a long segment on the case a week later.  The most detailed early reporting came from DohaNews* which is Qatar's first digital news organization, started in 2009 with a small staff that included professional veterans from the BBC, Wall Street Journal, and Al Jazeera English. 

The poet's lawyer is allowed to visit him only on Mondays and on December 3, al-Nuaimi talked to DohaNews* after his visit at Qatar Central Prison, reporting on al-Ajami's condition: 

"He's not defeated by this wrong miscarriage of justice by the court.  He said "I'm not feeling down at all, I'm OK.' 

"This sentence has made Mohammad an international figure" he's going to be the Gulf's Mandela. He's a poet, he can publish a lot of things about living on the inside."

   Judicial Irregularities Allegedly Rife

Al-Nuaimi, who once served as Qatar's justice minister, has filed an appeal in the case.  His previous clients have included Saddam Hussein and prisoners at Guantanamo.  The first hearing on the appeal is scheduled for December 30, when al-Nuaimi will argue irregularities in the process, including

1.  Not charging al-Ajami within the first six months of his arrest;

2.  Moving al-Ajami from detention to the Central Prison after eight days without possibility of bail, and keeping him in extended solitary confinement;

3.  Appointing the investigating judge to oversee court hearings, despite clear animosity between the judge and the defendant and against Qatar's judicial laws;

4.  Holding court hearings in secret, without Al-Nuami and Al-Ajami being permitted to attend, and disallowing a verbal defense; and

5.  Tampering with court transcripts to make it appear that Ibn Al-Dheeb admitted to reciting his poem in public.

According to DohaNews*, the prosecutor denied the irregularities and went on to argue that "two poetry experts from the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage offered identical testimony, confirming that in their interpretation, Al-Ajami's poems called for the overthrow of the regime." 

   Amnesty, Human Rights Watch Weigh In

For months now, at least two international organizations have been calling on Qatar to release the poet.  In October, Amnesty International initiated a letter writing campaign on al-Ajami's behalf, while issuing a statement that, based on what was known, Qatar had no right to hold him: 

"Mohammed al-Ajami has now spent almost a year behind bars in solitary confinement apparently solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.  

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Vermonter living in Woodstock: elected to five terms (served 20 years) as side judge (sitting in Superior, Family, and Small Claims Courts); public radio producer, "The Panther Program" -- nationally distributed, three albums (at CD Baby), some (more...)

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This is an outrage.  Now you know why our Fou... by Laurence Almand on Wednesday, Dec 12, 2012 at 5:39:31 PM
Clearly outrageous, but Guantanamo makes clea... by William Boardman on Wednesday, Dec 12, 2012 at 7:24:05 PM