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The life sentence handed out to a poet in Qatar is an unsettling reminder to me of the last time I tried to speak up for a writer in prison. That was in 1995, when Ken Saro-Wiwa was being held by the government of Nigeria for his advocacy on behalf of his people in the oil-rich eastern region. A newspaper finally and belatedly published my small appeal, but by that time Saro-Wiwa was already dead, executed.
Now, today – not tomorrow or next week or next month – is the time for poets, writers of all kinds, anyone who believes that people cannot be free if words are not free to fax or write government officials in Qatar, asking for the release of Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami. You can find officials’ names and addresses here: http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/qatar-poet-sentenced-to-life-imprisonment-fears-for-safety/.
Reports vary on which poem landed this poet in prison, but no one seems to doubt that he was imprisoned for what he said as a poet.
So far, I see no evidence that governments, either the U.S. or any other, are condemning the imposition of this sentence, which so transparently violates international accords on human rights, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights.
When I asked the PEN International Writers in Prison Committee if any governments had lodged protests of this sentence, I received an email December 12 from Ghias Aljundi, the committee’s Middle East Research and Development Officer: “According to my knowledge, no ambassadors launched any protests. Unfortunately, Qatar is the little baby of the western and the US governments. Only human rights organisations have been protesting.”
Please join them.
Carol Polsgrove is author of Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause.