Mohammed al-Ajami is a Qatari poet who was summoned and arrested for his poetry in 2011 and charged with insulting the ruling elites and “insinuating to overthrow the ruling system”. After spending five months in solitary confinement, al-Ajami was sentenced to life in prison during a secret trial where several government employed poetry experts determined that al-Ajami had in fact insulted the Emir and the prince, although the official source of those insults was never disclosed. It is believed that the charges stem from Mohammed’s poem Tunisian Jasmine in which he writes “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive” in reference to the Tunisian Revolution which sparked the larger Arab Spring movement. al-Ajami’s imprisonment sparked outrage with groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch calling for his immediate release claiming that Qatar holds a double standard when it comes to freedom of expression. In 2013, Mohammed’s sentence was reduced on appeal to 15 years. In the face of continued calls for his freedom, al-Ajami received a royal pardon and was released from prison in early 2016.
Illustration by Johnny Selman
Mohammed al-Ajami’s portrait is constructed from the English translation of his poem Tunisian Jasmine for which he was placed in prison. al-Ajami’s spirit is reflected in the power of his own words.
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Unitary constitutional monarchy