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UN rights office criticizes harsh sentence for Qatar poet

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] on Tuesday called for the immediate release [press release] of well known Qatari poet Mohammed al Ajami, also known as Ibn al Dheeb, who received a harsh sentence for a poem believed to encourage a coup of the Qatar government. The UN declared that the sentence was disproportionately harsh. Al-Ajami was initially sentenced to life in prison last November for his poem, which was deigned insulting to Qatar's national symbols. On appeal, his sentence was reduced to 15 years, which was upheld [AFP report] Monday by Qatar's highest court. Al-Ajami could still appeal for clemency to the Emir of Qatar. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] has also spoken out [press release] against the sentence.

Protection of free expression remains a key concern for international human rights advocates, and this is not Qatar's first criticism over limiting expression. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] in 2012 urged [JURIST report] Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar [BBC backgrounder], not to approve a proposed media law which allegedly had the purpose of censoring rather than promoting media freedom. In July 2012 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) [advocacy website] stated that press freedom in the Maldives had been deteriorating [JURIST report] since the resignation of former president Mohamed Nasheed. During the same month HRW urged the government of Sri Lanka to end arrests and office raids [JURIST report] of journalists who publish content critical of the government. In June two reports were presented to the UN Human Rights Council [official website] urging greater protection for the right to life of journalists and media freedom.

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