October 20, 2015 / 2:51 PM / 4 years ago

U.N. right experts urge Qatar to free man jailed for critical poem

DUBAI (Reuters) - United Nations human rights experts on Tuesday urged Qatar to release a poet jailed in 2013 for 15 years for reciting a poem that praised the 2011 Arab spring uprising in Tunisia and criticized the country’s crown prince.

The tiny, gas-rich, absolute Gulf monarchy tightly controls freedom of expression, with self-censorship prevalent among national newspapers. It has no organized political opposition.

“The arrest, detention and sentencing of Mohammed al-Ajami in October 2013 seem to be solely related to the peaceful exercise of his fundamental human rights,” said the U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, in a statement.

Ajami, 39, was detained in 2012 and initially sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of “inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime”, a term that was a year later reduced to 15 years.

The U.N. rights team’s statement was timed to coincide with the second anniversary of his sentence.

Although the close U.S. ally brooks little dissent internally, it has been a leading backer of Syrian rebels, of Libya’s opposition during its Arab spring revolt and of the 2011 street protests that ousted the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia.

The U.N. special rapporteurs on both cultural rights and on the independence of judges and lawyers also called for Ajami’s release, arguing that his imprisonment amounted to censorship and came despite indications he was not tried fairly.

There was no immediate reply from officials to a request for comment.

Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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