Qatar court upholds poet Mohammed al-Ajami's sentence

Mohammed al-Ajami photographed in prison Mohammed al-Ajami denies his poems were meant to be offensive or seditious

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A court in Qatar has upheld a 15-year prison sentence given to a poet found guilty of inciting people to overthrow the government and insulting the emir.

Mohammed al-Ajami's lawyer, Najib al-Nuami, said the Court of Cassation's ruling had been "political".

His only remaining option was to appeal to the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, for clemency, Mr Nuami added.

Mr Ajami was originally jailed for life last year but the sentence was reduced to 15 years on appeal in February.

Human rights group have criticised his conviction as a betrayal of free speech. They said his original trial was marred by irregularities, with court sessions held in secret.

'Indiscriminate thieves'

The case against Mr Ajami was said to have been based on a poem he wrote in 2010 which criticised the former emir, Sheikh Hamad Al Thani. But activists believe the authorities were punishing him for a 2011 poem he wrote about authoritarian rule in the region.

In the poem Tunisian Jasmine, a private recitation of which was uploaded to the internet in January 2011, Mr Ajami expressed his support for the uprising in the North African state, saying: "We are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite."

He also denounced "all Arab governments" as "indiscriminate thieves".

The father of four, also known as Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb, has said the poems were not meant to be offensive or seditious.

Mr Nuami, a former justice minister, argued at the Court of Cassation that the maximum sentence Mr Ajami should have received was five years.

He described Monday's ruling as "a political and not a judicial decision".

"I hope the emir will grant him an amnesty," he told the AFP news agency.

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