‘Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?
– Walt Whitman ‘Leaves of Grass’
In China, Zhu Yufu imprisoned for “inciting subversion of state power”, a court in eastern China sentenced him to seven years in jail for writing a poem urging people to support freedom. The court ruled that Zhu Yufu’s poem It’s Time, sent using the Skype online chat service, deserved stern punishment, according to his son.
“Sentencing veteran activist Zhu Yufu to seven years for writing a poem is further evidence of the Chinese government’s continuing repression of anyone who is perceived to directly or indirectly criticize its policies,” said Sarah Schafer, Amnesty International’s China researcher.
“These harsh measures are a sign that the Chinese leadership must be afraid of losing its grip on power. Why else would it sentence someone to seven years in prison for writing a poem?”
In Saudi Arabia, Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh is in a Saudi prison, allegedly for spreading atheism – and having long hair. The poet, raised in Saudi Arabia, was arrested five months ago, when a reader submitted a complaint against him saying that his poems expressed ideas of atheism.
In Sri Lanka, a Tamil poet and Norwegian citizen Shanmugampillai Jayapalan arrested by the Terrorist Investigative Division in November 2013, was deported by Sri Lankan immigration, for disrupting the ethnic harmony of Sri Lanka, the Government Information Department says.
In Qatar, A court has upheld a 15-year prison sentence given to a poet found guilty of inciting people to overthrow the government and insulting the emir. Mohammed al-Ajami’s lawyer, Najib al-Nuami, said the Court of Cassation’s ruling had been “political”. His only remaining option was to appeal to the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, for clemency, Mr Nuami added.
Mr Ajami was originally jailed for life last year but the sentence was reduced to 15 years on appeal in February. Human rights group have criticised his conviction as a betrayal of free speech. They said his original trial was marred by irregularities, with court sessions held in secret. The case against Mr Ajami was said to have been based on a poem he wrote in 2010 which criticised the former emir, Sheikh Hamad Al Thani. But activists believe the authorities were punishing him for a 2011 poem he wrote about authoritarian rule in the region.
In the poem Tunisian Jasmine, a private recitation of which was uploaded to the internet in January 2011, Mr Ajami expressed his support for the uprising in the North African state, saying: “We are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite.”
He also denounced “all Arab governments” as “indiscriminate thieves”. The father of four, also known as Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb, has said the poems were not meant to be offensive or seditious. Mr Nuami, a former justice minister, argued at the Court of Cassation that the maximum sentence Mr Ajami should have received was five years.
He described Monday’s ruling as “a political and not a judicial decision”.
“I hope the emir will grant him an amnesty,” he told the AFP news agency (BBC 2013).
To conclude, with the words of the Italian writer and Holocaust survivor, Primo Levi;