Qatar frees poet jailed since 2011 for insulting government

A Qatari poet imprisoned since 2011 over verses he wrote that apparently offended the government of the nation’s former ruler has received a royal pardon and been freed, the United Nations says.

Muhammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami’s 15-year sentence, roundly criticized by rights groups and UN special rapporteurs, had exposed the limits of free speech in the oil-and-gas-rich country.

The reasoning for the pardon by Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is not immediately clear. Qatari officials have not responded to requests for comment and state media did not report al-Ajami’s late-night pardon Tuesday.

The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights tells The Associated Press on Wednesday it confirmed al-Ajami’s release through civil society groups working with his family.

The poet’s lawyer, Najeeb al-Nuaimi, says he hadn’t had any contact with al-Ajami since his release.

Ali al-Hatab, a human rights activist who worked on al-Ajami’s case, says there was no previous indication that the poet would be released.

“They are planning to (hold) the World Cup, so it’s a good time to dispose of this case,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the main reason was why he was really released. We’re grateful he is out.”

— AP

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