For Immediate Release: December 18th, 2012

Poets Gather at Qatar Embassy in DC to Demand Release of Jailed Poet

Contact:     Medea Benjamin
                   415 235 6517


Poets Gather at Qatar Embassy in DC to Demand Release of Jailed Poet

When: 12 noon, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Where: Qatari Embassy 2555 M Street, NW Washington, DC

Why: Qatari poet Muhammad al-Ajami was handed a life sentence for “insulting” the Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and “inciting to overthrow the ruling system.” These claims came after a video was posted on the internet of Al-Ajami reciting his poetic tribute to the Arab Spring, "Tunisian Jasmine."

Ajami's lawyer has filed an appeal, and the case will be heard on December 30th. The Emir, however, has the power to pardon Al-Ajami.  

Over 500 poets around the country have written haikus and letters to the Emir. The group 1000 Thousand Poets for Change, has gathered a remarkable group of poets to call on the Qatari court to review the appeal. They include Philip Levine (US Poet Laureate 2011-2012), Alice Walker, Sam Hamill, Michael McClure, Michael Rothenberg, Ron Silliman, Naomi Shihab Nye, Carolyn Forché, Pina Piccolo, Chris Abani and Martin Espada, as well as the PEN American Center.

At the Qatari Embassy, the group will read some of the poems written for al-Ajami, and deliver them to the Embassy. “As an Arab, I am deeply offended by the imprisonment of Muhammad al-Ajami.  It goes against Arab tradition that reveres and respects poets,” says Restaurateur Andy Shallal of Busyboys & Poets. “Qatar, which was known as the land of al-Jazeera and respect for free speech will now be known as the land that imprisons poets for speaking out.”

“A nation that defends of human rights does not imprison poets,” says Ali Al-Ahmed of the Institute for Gulf Affairs. “The imprisonment of Al-Ajami exposes the dictatorial nature of the Qatari regime.”

Visuals: Large banners, poems on colorful paper.

Sponsored by: CODEPINK, Institute for Gulf Affairs, and Busboys & Poets