English PEN warmly welcomes the news that Qatari poet Mohammed al-‘Ajami has finally been pardoned and released after more than four years in prison. While this is a hugely welcome development, PEN maintains that the poet should never have been detained.
Cat Lucas, English PEN’s Writers at Risk Programme Manager, said:
We are delighted by the unexpected news that, having spent more than four years in prison for his poetry, poet Mohammed al-‘Ajami has finally been released from prison and reunited with his friends and family. Nevertheless, as the terms of his release remain unclear, we will be urging the authorities to ensure that no conditions are imposed on his release and continuing to call for all remaining charges against him to be dropped.
Carles Torner, PEN International executive director, said:
This is heartening news, coming as it does just days before World Poetry Day, but it’s ludicrous that al-‘Ajami, a father of four, spent almost five years in prison, simply for reciting a poem in private. Qatari authorities must ensure that all its citizens are free to express themselves peacefully without fear of imprisonment or reprisals.
English PEN and our sister PEN centres around the world have been campaigning for Al-‘Ajami’s release since his arrest in Doha in 2011 on charges of ‘inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime’ and ‘insulting the Emir’ in his poetry. Al-‘Ajami was initially sentenced to life in prison, reduced to 15 years on appeal in February 2013.
In October 2013, representatives of PEN International and PEN American Center travelled to Qatar to meet with authorities at the Public Prosecution office to formally request access to Al-’Ajami—who was being kept in solitary confinement and whose prison visitation rights were severely restricted—and were approved to visit the poet. The delegation was met with a series of obstructions when they reached Doha’s Central Prison, however, and was ultimately denied access by prison authorities. Al-‘Ajami’s family told the PEN representatives that the poet knew they were there and was uplifted by the visit.
Most recently, English PEN joined Amnesty International to host a vigil for Al-Ajami and to deliver a petition for his release to the Qatari Embassy in London. Photographs are available on Flickr and you can view footage of the demo on YouTube or via the player below.
Thank you to everyone who campaigned for his release, whether you attended vigils and readings, signed a petition, or wrote a letter to Mohammed al-‘Ajami in prison. We’re hugely grateful for your support.