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Bahrain: Ayat al-Gormezi's prison release also becomes a symbol of progress, albeit minor! PDF Print E-mail

images/stories/Indpdt_logo.png London ~ Monday, 18 July 2011
Leading article: A small step in the right direction

images/stories/AyatAlGormezi.jpg The release of Ayat al-Gormezi, the young woman who has become a symbol of resistance to royal tyranny in Bahrain, is welcome as far as it goes. In June, the courts jailed the 20-year-old for a year for having had the temerity to read out a poem that was deemed insulting to the King of Bahrain.

Referring to the royal government's harsh treatment of pro-democracy protesters in February, she asked: "Don't you hear their cries. Don't you hear their screams?" For those words of lèse majesté she was arrested and jailed, after which her family says that she was beaten on the face, lashed with electric cables and kept in a cell in near-freezing conditions. Her treatment apparently improved somewhat before she was sentenced two months later.

It is good that she is free after completing only a month of her prison term. But no one should mistake this for a sign that things are changing for the better in Bahrain. Al-Gormezi's release was an arbitrary act of royal clemency, not the result of the independent judicial process in which the courts recognising that they had been wrong to jail her in the first place. She would probably still be behind bars had it not been for an international outcry on her behalf. Such releases are reminiscent of the old Soviet tactics of selectively freeing high-profile convicts whose presence in jail had become an international embarrassment. Such acts had no effect on almost countless others whose jail sentences had not received similar exposure abroad.

Only when Bahrain ends the travesty of trying anti-government protesters in special military courts, releases the scores of detained opposition activists and starts genuine dialogue with forces calling for political change, can the country be regarded as making real progress.
images/stories/Indpdt_logo.png London ~ Thursday July 14 2011
Bahrain releases poet who became a symbol of resistance to regime
By Patrick Cockburn
images/stories/AlGormeziReleased.jpg Ayat al-Gormezi was beaten, kept in a near freezing cell and forced to clean lavatories with her hands during her detention (EPA)

The 20-year-old Bahraini poet Ayat al-Gormezi, jailed and tortured for reading a poem critical of the government at a pro-democracy rally, has been suddenly released – though her sentence has not been revoked.

The international outcry over the mistreatment of the student, who became a symbol of resistance to the crackdown in the island, probably led the government to free her.

After being initially beaten across the face, she had been lashed with electric cables, kept in a near freezing cell and forced to clean police lavatories with her hands, though her treatment in prison had improved recently.

Ayat was greeted by cheering crowds in her neighbourhood near Hamad town outside the capital after her unexpected release.

Her family say they are delighted that she is free although they are worried about her future. They fear that she might be re-arrested, as she has not been pardoned and her release was not the result of an appeal against her one-year sentence.

At the height of the pro-democracy protests in Pearl Square in February, Ayat had recited a poem addressed to King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa that included the lines: "We will kill humiliation and assassinate misery. Don't you hear their cries? Don't you hear their screams?"

She was arrested in March after being forced to give herself up when security forces threatened to kill her brothers if she did not do so.

At first her family did not know what had happened to her and endured additional mental torture when pictures of their missing daughter began to appear on dating websites.

Government repression since mid-March has been extremely severe, and hospital doctors and nurses who treated injured protesters have been tortured and forced to confess that they were part of an armed conspiracy against the monarchy, that had been backed by Iran.

A Saudi-led military force moved into the island, and mosques and other religious meeting places belonging to the Shia majority were bulldozed and destroyed on the grounds that they did not have building permission.

There are limited signs that the release of Ayat is more than an attempt to defuse international criticism of human rights abuses in Bahrain.

The king has called for a dialogue on reforms, and the country's main opposition group, al-Wifaq, representing the Shia majority, has now decided at the last minute to enter into discussions with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Earlier this week al-Wifaq walked out of a meeting on Bahrain's controversial naturalisation laws under which they accuse the Sunni rulers of naturalising Sunnis in a bid to change Bahraini demographics. The walk out happened after a Sunni representative called the Shia heretics, implying they had come from Iran.