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.
" If that is the case, he would be considered a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately and conditionally."
Amnesty has condemned the life sentence for al-Ajami as "an outrageous betrayal of free speech." Earlier in November, Amnesty issued a public statement calling on Qatar to end its use of torture and other ill treatment of prisoners and detainees, and in particular to stop its practice of issuing flogging sentences of 40 to 100 lashes. Also according to Amnesty: "Freedom of expression -- including press freedoms -- is strictly controlled in Qatar, in addition to which the press often exercises self-censorship."
In September, Human Rights Watch wrote to Qatar's Attorney General Al-Marri, asking him to drop the charges against the poet: "We are writing to you to express our concerns over the continued detention of Qatari poet Muhammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, and the inconsistency of this action with Qatar's international obligations and its burgeoning global reputation as a center for media freedom."
Qatar Flouts International Law & Standards
Expanding its argument, the Human Rights Watch letter stated:
"While we understand that the poem recited by Ibn al-Dheeb included passages which could be construed as insulting to the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, there is no evidence to indicate that he has gone beyond the legitimate exercise of his right to free expression".
"International law is unequivocal on the importance of public officials being required to tolerate a greater degree of criticism than ordinary citizens".
"The UN Human Rights Committee has made it clear that insulting a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties and affirmed that all public figures, "including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government' are legitimately subject to criticism".
"Qatar's laws are not only out of step with the international law on freedom of opinion and expression, they are at odds with Qatar's aspirations to serve as a center for media freedom in the region" [as exemplified by] Al Jazeera, the news channel that Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani set up in 1996."
Emir al-Thani was instrumental is establishing Al Jazeera, after an earlier Arabic language television venture fell apart due largely to Saudi demands for censorship. In the years since, Al Jazeera has fought its own battles with censorship, winning generally high praise for its efforts. But it's also a captive of its geography and subject to self-censorship, so it's unsurprising that, as of December 11, Al Jazeera had yet to do an independent story on Mohammed al-Ajami.