For a tiny country with a population under two million, oil-rich Qatar gets a lot of action. Doha has hosted the interminable trade talks. And the recent climate summit. It’s HQ for al-Jazeera. And, remarkably, they’ll be hosting the football World Cup, in 2022.
But it’s no place to be a poet.
The esteemed Qatari writer Muhammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami has just been sentenced to five years in prison “over a verse authorities claim insults the Gulf nation’s ‘symbols’ and encourages the overthrow of its ruling system”, reports the Dubai-based TV channel al-Arabiya.
The poet was arrested a year ago after a video appeared showing him reciting a verse, “Tunisian Jasmine”, which praises the revolutions of the Arab spring. Authorities judged his words to be “criticising the Emir and inciting revolt”.
And yet, notes al-Arabiya, the incident has not received airtime on al-Jazeera (al-Ajami’s intention to appeal the sentence does get a short report on their website).
Al-Jazeera has been among the most important chroniclers of the Arab Spring, but has come under criticism before for failing to apply the same level of scrutiny to its own leaders – who just happen also to be their funders.