Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Freedom Now, Amnesty International, English PEN, PEN International, and Split this Rock held demonstrations on Thursday, 25 February, in London and Washington to call for the release of Mohammed al-Ajami, a Qatari poet who has been imprisoned since 2011. Qatari authorities arrested al-Ajami in November of that year and charged him with “inciting to overthrow the regime” and “insulting the Emir” based on the contents of his poetry. In 2012, a Qatari court sentenced him to life in prison, but his sentence was later reduced to 15 years on appeal. The UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression, cultural rights, and the independence of judges and lawyers have expressed concern regarding the penalty imposed on al-Ajami for his poetry, as well as the fairness of his trial; in October 2015, they urged the government to release him.

During the demonstrations, representatives from the NGOs also attempted to deliver petitions with several thousand signatures calling for al-Ajami’s release to the embassies. Although officials from both embassies refused to receive the petitions in person, the Washington embassy’s security staff accepted the documents and claimed that they would deliver them to the diplomats. ADHRB’s petition had garnered 3,549 signatures.

Margaret Bailey is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB.