Press Conference on behalf of imprisoned Qatari poet, Mohammed al-Ajami


June 4, 2014

Contact: Ali Al Hattab, Organizer with Campaign to Free Al Ajami,

Alli McCracken, CODEPINK,, 860-575-5692

Press Conference on behalf of imprisoned Qatari poet, Mohammed al-Ajami

Where: National Press Club, Zenger Room, 529 14th Street, NW, Washington DC

When: 12:00pm-1pm, Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The campaign to free Muhammad Ibn-Dheeb al-Ajami, including representatives from human rights groups, PEN America, and CODEPINK, will hold a press conference to call for the release of imprisoned Qatari poet Mohammed al-Ajami. Speakers include Sarah Hoffman, the Freedom to Write Program Coordinator of the PEN American Center; Lex Paulson, Vice President for Strategy, New School of Athens Global Governance Group; Medea Benjamin, cofounder of the peace group CODEPINK. Sarah Hoffman manages the case work of writers in peril, designs campaigns, and publicizes PEN’s work and news. Lex Paulson is a former Democratic candidate for the Connecticut General Assembly and a 2008 Obama presidential campaign organizer. Currently, he is the Vice President for Strategy at the New School of Athens Global Governance Group, which is an international initiative whose mission statement is finding new ways to manage the globalized world.

On November 16, 2011, Qatari poet Mohammad al-Ajami was handed a life sentence (which was later reduced to 15 years) for "insulting the Emir", Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and “inciting to overthrow the ruling system.” These claims came after a record was posted on YouTube of al-Ajami reciting his poetic tribute to the Arab Spring, "Tunisian Jasmine." Since November of 2011, al-Ajami spent much of the time in solitary confinement and his trial had been postponed five times. The featured speakers at the press conference will call on the new Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to release Al-Ajami immediately.

Qatar, a major US ally in the Middle East, considers itself to be a defender of human rights. Deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, Joe Stork, said, “Qatar, after all its posturing as a supporter of freedom, turns out to be determined to keep its citizens quiet.”

Human rights activists have been organizing on behalf of al-Ajami across the world. Last year, British MP George Galloway introduced a motion, signed by 14 members of Parliament, calling on the British government to intervene on al-Ajami's behalf. The peace group CODEPINK got dozens of US poets to dedicate a poem to him and held a demonstration at the Qatari Embassy in Washington, DC. “Poets hold a special place in our societies, using their words to speak truth and inspire us. Al Ajami deserves to be respected and valued for his work, not persecuted and imprisoned,” said CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin.