The end of Ramadan brings no pardon for poets

Eid — the end of Ramadan — has come and gone. Traditional pardons have been handed out. In Qatar, poet Mohammed al Ajami (Al-Dheeb), was not among them. He continues to live in a prison in the desert, serving a 15-year sentence for two poems, one praising the Arab Spring and the other critical of the Emir.

He and his poems “encouraged an attempt to overthrow the regime,” according to the charges.

The over 70 pardons granted in Qatar are reported to have gone to Asian workers charged with theft, rape, drug abuse, bribery, prostitution and more.

These workers will now likely be deported. If Mohammed al Ajami were released, he would also likely leave the country to reunite with his family and then perhaps accept a brief fellowship as a poet at a major university.

Throughout the Muslim world, Ramadan is a time when dispensations are handed out — as many as 1,000 prisoners were reportedly released in Saudi Arabia, 800 plus in Dubai, over 350 in Egypt — to individuals charged with violent and nonviolent crimes.

But the amnesties were not given to writers — not to poet al Ajami, not to Egyptian journalists or Iranian bloggers. The offense of words and ideas are perhaps judged more dangerous.

Writers in prison in the Middle East who did not get pardons include: three writers in Bahrain, five in Egypt, 35 in Iran, one writer in Qatar, two in Saudi Arabia, 11 in Syria, one in Tunisia, and two writers in United Arab Emirates.*

*Source PEN International

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, a former reporter for a the Christian Science Monitor, is a Vice President of PEN International and PEN American Center. Mohammed al-Ajami is an honorary member of PEN American Center.

Are you with The World?

The story you just read is available to read for free because thousands of listeners and readers like you generously support our nonprofit newsroom. Every day, the reporters and producers at The World are hard at work bringing you human-centered news from across the globe. But we can’t do it without you: We need your support to ensure we can continue this work for another year.

When you make a gift of $10 or more a month, we’ll invite you to a virtual behind-the-scenes tour of our newsroom to thank you for being with The World.