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Lawyer: Writer jailed for life over poems praising the Arab Spring

DOHA, Qatar — A court in Qatar sentenced a poet to life in prison on Thursday for incitement to overthrow the government and criticizing the ruling emir, his lawyer said.

In his poetry, Muhammad Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami praised the Arab Spring revolts that have toppled dictators in four Arab countries since early last year and criticized Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Qatar has backed uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

'Miscarriage of justice'
Ajami, 36, who was not present in court, has been jailed in solitary confinement for almost a year. He has not seen his family during that time, according to his lawyer Nagib al-Naimi.

"This is a tremendous miscarriage of justice," Naimi told Reuters after the verdict, adding that he would appeal.

Ajami faced charges of "inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime", which carries the death penalty. Qatar's penal code provides sentences of five years in prison for criticising the country's ruler.

Qatar, a close U.S. ally and major oil and gas producer in the Gulf with a large American military base, has escaped the unrest engulfing other parts of the Arab world.

Doha finances and hosts the pan-Arab satellite TV network al-Jazeera, which has assiduously covered the Arab revolts, though it gave scant coverage to an uprising last year in neighboring Bahrain - ruled by a related Gulf Arab monarchy.

The Qatari government has backed the armed revolt in Syria, a successful NATO-backed armed uprising in Libya, and street protests that ousted rulers in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.

Wissam Nassar / Pool via Reuters, file

The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani speaks during a visit to the Islamic University in Gaza City on Oct. 23.

But freedom of expression is tightly controlled in the small Gulf state, with self-censorship prevalent among national newspapers and other media outlets. Qatar has no organized political opposition.

In October, Human Rights Watch criticized what it said was a double standard on freedom of expression in Qatar and urged the emir not to approve a draft media law penalising criticism of the Gulf emirate and its neighbors. 

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