20 June, 2021

‘My Throat, Unable To Speak, Will Die’

Across the world, down the ages, regimes of all colours have throttled dissenting voices

‘My Throat, Unable To Speak, Will Die’

How dangerous could reciting a poem be? Especially when you’re reciting it in your own apartment, in front of your friends? But Mohammed ibn al-Dhub al-Ajami, a Qatari poet studying literature at Cairo University, had not bargained for a friend recording it and uploading it on YouTube. This was sometime in 2010. Within weeks, he was summoned home, charged with critic­­ising the rulers and given a lifer. After protests outside Qatar, the sentence was reduced to 15 years’ solitary confinement. Writ­ers organisations are now lobbying to end the solitary confinement and gain visiting rights for his family. 

This year, PEN International is highlighting the plight of five writers, including al-Ajami, facing persecution by the state. Among them is Kazakh wri­ter Aron Atabek, who remains defiant as ever. In solitary confinement since 2007, he had a critique of President Nursultan Nazarbayev spirited out for publication online, dimming all prospect of early release. The headline to this piece is from one of his poems.

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