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Censorship and Free Speech

‘Poetry Under Attack: An Evening in Support of Mohammad al-Ajami

Mohammed-Ibn-al-Dheeb-al-AjamiIn October 2013, al-Ajami’s 15-year prison sentence — ostensibly for a 2010 poem that criticized Qatar’s emir — was upheld as “final.”

At the time, al-Ajami’s lawyer, Najib al-Naimi, still held out hope for a pardon from the emir. But more than a year has passed with no sign of a pardon.

Still, al-Ajami is not forgotten, and on Feb. 27, and poets — includingImtiaz Dharker, Sabrina Mahfouz, and John Paul O’Neill — will mark two years since al-Ajami’s sentence was reduced from life in prison to 15 year.

The event is set to begin at 7 pm, with doors opening at 6.30pm. It will be held at Amnesty International UK, The Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA

The event is free but people are asked to reserve a place online.

Al-Ajami was arrested in November 2011 after the YouTube publication of his “Tunisian Jasmine,” a poem that praised Arab uprisings and criticised governments across the region. The case against him was ostensibly about the 2010 poem that criticized the emir, but many believe authorities are punishing al-Ajami for his Jasmine poem.

Kareem James Abu-Zeid’s free translation of the Jasime Poem, which was read at an event in support of the poet in San Francisco:

Jasmine Revolution Poem

By Mohammad al-Ajami Ibn al-Dhib

Prime Minister, Mohamed al-Ghannouchi:
If we measured your might
it wouldn’t hold a candle
to a constitution.
We shed no tears for Ben Ali,
nor any for his reign.
It was nothing more than a moment
in time for us,
historical
and dictatorial,
a system of oppression,
an era of autocracy.
Tunisia declared the people’s revolt:
When we lay blame
only the base and vile suffer from it;
and when we praise
we do so with all our hearts.
A revolution was kindled with the blood of the people:
their glory had worn away,
the glory of every living soul.
So, rebel, tell them,
tell them in a shrouded voice, a voice from the grave:
tell them that tragedies precede all victories.
A warning to the country whose ruler is ignorant,
whose ruler deems that power
comes from the American army.
A warning to the country
whose people starve
while the regime boasts of its prosperity.
A warning to the country whose citizens sleep:
one moment you have your rights,
the next they’re taken from you.
A warning to the system—inherited—of oppression.
How long have all of you been slaves
to one man’s selfish predilections?
How long will the people remain
ignorant of their own strength,
while a despot makes decrees and appointments,
the will of the people all but forgotten?
Why is it that a ruler’s decisions are carried out?
They’ll come back to haunt him
in a country willing
to rid itself of coercion.
Let him know, he
who pleases only himself, and does nothing
but vex his own people; let him know
that tomorrow
someone else will be seated on that throne,
someone who knows the nation’s not his own,
nor the property of his children.
It belongs to the people, and its glories
are the glories of the people.
They gave their reply, and their voice was one,
and their fate, too, was one.
All of us are Tunisia
in the face of these oppressors.
The Arab regimes and those who rule them
are all, without exception,
without a single exception,
shameful, thieves.
This question that keeps you up at night—
its answer won’t be found
on any of the official channels…
Why, why do these regimes
import everything from the West—
everything but the rule of law, that is,
and everything but freedom?

 

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How Egypt’s New Regime is Silencing Civil Society

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Somewhere in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak must be smiling, knowing that three years after his downfall, he has won after all.

After three decades of muzzling civil society, of harassing, detaining and torturing political activists, scholars, journalists, lawyers, doctors and regular citizens of all stripes, Mubarak never was able to accomplish what the new regime has achieved in a matter of months.

Mubarak was never able to silence completely civil society. The judiciary rose up to check his periodic grabs to expand his power, frustrating his regime so much that in his last years, he collaborated with the military to set up an entirely separate system of military courts to try scholars, activists and others who spoke out in defiance.

All of that is gone now. In just one week, we have had a dizzying series of show trials and detentions.

In three cases, civilian judges handed down death sentences against large number of supporters of former Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s top religious figure. In another, three Al Jazeera English journalists were convicted of “falsifying news” and belonging to or assisting the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Finally, on Tuesday, 23 Egyptians were detained for a peaceful march to the presidential palace. The protesters were first attacked by groups of men in civilian clothes before they were arrested for violating the new Protest Law. Some may have been simply bystanders. One was a noted women’s rights activist who told friends she was arrested while buying water from a kiosk near the protests.

Egyptian defendants’ relatives mourn after Egypt court refers 638 Morsi supporters are sentenced to death sentence in the coutnry’s latest mass trial (Photo Credit: Ahmed Ismail/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images).

All of this is disturbing, but most of all the total failure of the judicial system to maintain any semblance of fair justice.

In the words of the Amnesty International trial observer, these trials were a “farcical spectacle.” Death penalties, we said, are now being issued “at a drop of a hat.” Journalists were “jailed for journalism.”

Some of the details resemble dark comedy. The low point of a bad week of the judiciary came in one of the death penalty cases, involving 683 defendants. As the judge listed the sentences, one of the defendants was first sentenced to death and then to 15 years in prison. Three days later, there’s still public confusion about which sentence he received.

A second man sentenced in a second death penalty case was a blind man who could not have possibly been involved in any political violence.

Egyptian relatives of supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi cry sitting outside the courthouse after the court ordered the execution of 529 Morsi supporters after only two hearings (Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images).

Piously, Egypt’s leaders deny any politicization of the judiciary. Responding to pleas from President Obama to release the journalists, Egypt’s new president Abdul el-Sisi, said on television that he wouldn’t dare interfere with the rulings because that doesn’t happen in Egypt.

It’s despicable that after this week President Sisi would celebrate “the independence” of the Egyptian judiciary. Egypt’s judicial system is broken and is no longer able to deliver justice.Its role now is to silence dissent.

That should be a matter of concern to the Egyptian president, but the judiciary’s failure is far too closely related to the expansion of the regime’s powers, its broad ability to silence all political activity, and the wide immunity its police, security and military forces have for any abuses.

This is a familiar pattern of abuses for Egypt. What’s new is now Egyptians can’t depend on the judiciary for the mildest of protections.

Take action to have Egyptian officials release all prisoners of conscience, squash the death sentences and end the use of the death penalty in all cases.

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