Qatari poet life sentence reduced to 15 years

Mohammed al-Ajami photographed in prison Mohammed al-Ajami denies his poem was meant to be seditious

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A Qatari poet sentenced to life in prison for inciting the overthrow of the government and insulting Qatar's rulers has had his jail term cut.

Mohammed al-Ajami's sentence was reduced to 15 years, his lawyer said.

The Supreme Court is due to make a final ruling on his sentence within the next 30 days.

Human rights groups have condemned Mr Ajami's conviction, saying his trial was marred by irregularities, with court sessions held in secret.

The case against Mr Ajami is said to be based on a poem he wrote in 2010 which criticised the Emir, Sheikh Hamad al-Thani.

But activists believe the authorities were angered by a 2011 poem he wrote about authoritarian rule in the region.

In the poem Tunisian Jasmine, which he recited and then 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".

Mr Ajami, also known as Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb, had previously recited a poem that criticised Qatar's emir and was posted online in August 2010.

He said the recital had taken place in front of a small, private audience at his home and not in public, challenging the grounds for being charged with incitement.

Mohammed Ajami, a father-of-four, has never disputed that he is the author of the poem, but has said it was not meant to be offensive or seditious.

As he was led away after the hearing, Mr Ajami shouted "There is no law for this", Reuters news agency reported.

Freedom of expression is strictly controlled in Qatar, which has escaped the kind of unrest sweeping other parts of the Middle East,

Its human rights record has long been been criticised by campaigners and is a thorny issue in relations with its ally the United States, for whom it hosts a major military base.

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