Bahraini woman poet tells of torture while in custody
Thu Jul 14, 2011 By Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent The Telegraph
A young Bahraini woman who was arrested after reciting an anti-government poem to demonstrators in the Gulf kingdom said she was beaten, electrocuted and threatened with sexual assault while in custody.
Ayat al-Qurmezi, 20, became one of the symbols of the protests that hit the centre of the Bahraini capital, Manama in February and March. After she was arrested, reports circulated that she had been whipped and even at one point raped and killed, leading to an improvement in her conditions and her release on Wednesday evening.
Another, addressed to the prime minister, said: "You must go. Take His Majesty with you, and leave your deeds behind." After her family received threats, she gave herself up to the authorities in March and put in a narrow cell at a police station. Meanwhile, Bahrain security forces backed by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates dispersed the protesters. Altogether, about 30 people were killed, while four more protesters died in custody.
"She was beaten with a hose and electrocuted," Miss al-Qurmezi's brother, Yusuf, told The Daily Telegraph on Thursday. "They put the clips on her lips and on other parts of her face.
"They did not rape her but they told her they would. They put her in a narrow cell. Through the wall she could hear the screams of men who were being beaten. They would come and tell her, 'you are next'."
State media and pro-government activists, mostly Sunnis, attacked her and claimed she had incited racial hatred, by insulting naturalised Bahrainis and Indian residents, and called for violence against the king. She was jailed for a year last month by a military court.
One commentator wrote: "Al-Qurmezi was not interrogated because of the poem. Rather, it was because she read the poem in public and insulted the Monarchy, enraging the formerly silent majority who demanded her arrest."
Miss al-Qurmezi said she remained under house arrest and although released early the charges on which she had been jailed had not been dropped. "I hope Bahrain can move away from the crisis to a transition into a better future, without discrimination or sectarianism," she said.
Hundreds of people were detained following the crackdown, including more than 40 doctors and nurses from the main Al-Salmaniya Hospital. Eight leading activists have also been handed life imprisonment.
However, the government has been attempting to restore its reputation in recent weeks, returning trials to the civilian courts, announcing a "national dialogue" with the opposition, and commissioning a high level panel of international human rights experts to conduct an inquiry into the events of February and March.
Greeted by a crowd of hundreds of people at her home, she told her family she had not been sexually assault but threatened as well as being electrocuted with clips attached to her face. She also denied that she had committed treason by attacking the king, saying she wanted reform not revolution. "The demand isn't to overthrow the regime, but we want a real constitutional monarchy," she said to reporters.
Miss al-Qurmezi, a member of the Shia majority who was at teacher training college when the protests began in February, was filmed reciting poems to a huge crowd at Pearl Roundabout, the epicentre of the demonstrations.
One featured a conversation between Satan and King Hamad in which they outlined the complaints of the opposition, mostly Shia calling for the Sunni royal family and elite to share power.
with Ayat in the day of her release [Arabic] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WKwq2bRMTc "In the CID and detention it was worst than jail. I used to get beaten everyday. My room used to be next to the torture room. I'd hear men being tortured all night. If I tell them I can't sleep because of it, they tell me wait a bit then it's your turn"
Reuters: Bahrain puts protest poet under house arrest
DUBAI (Reuters) - A young Bahraini Shi'ite poet sentenced to a year in prison told Reuters Thursday she had been released and placed under house arrest, but would continue to voice demands for democratic reforms to the Gulf island kingdom's constitutional monarchy.
Ayat al-Qurmozi, 20, was released Wednesday afternoon, a month after a military court sentenced her to a year in prison for reciting a poem mocking Bahrain's Sunni rulers and demanding the king step down during pro-democracy protests led by the Shi'ite majority in February and March.
"I hope Bahrain can move away from the crisis to a transition into a better future, without discrimination or sectarianism," Qurmozi told Reuters by telephone.
Bahrain crushed the protests and enforced a fierce crackdown in which hundreds, mostly Shi'ites, were arrested and some 2,000 people sacked from their jobs.
Rights groups said Qurmozi was among some 200 people released after months in jail.
Qurmozi stepped out of her car Wednesday to hundreds of well-wishers celebrating her release from prison, where she said she was beaten and forced to stick her hands in toilets during interrogations.
The government says there is no systematic abuse in its prisons and has vowed to investigate any charges of torture.
Qurmozi said she was made to sign a paper saying she would remain at home, not join protests and not speak to the media.
"I'm not afraid to speak out though. I have something to say and I won't be afraid because of a paper I signed," she said.
The kingdom's rulers blamed sectarianism and Iran's manipulation of its Shi'ite population for the protests. Qurmouzi said in the poem that led to her arrest that Sunnis and Shi'ites were united against Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
The young poet said she was surprised to learn small protests were still erupting daily in Shi'ite villages around Manama -- most are now demanding the opposition walk out of a national dialogue launched by the government.
Many Shi'ites are angry that not all prisoners have been released, including eight Shi'ite leaders given life terms by a military court. They also doubt the dialogue will ensure political reforms, such as a representative parliament.
"The demand isn't to overthrow the regime, but we want a real constitutional monarchy," Qurmozi said.
- Huffington Post: A Freedom Poet: The Ai Weiwei of the Middle East
- Amnesty International - Urgent Action: Bahraini activist jailed for reading poem
- Amnesty International - Bahraini poet set to face verdict for protest reading
- The Independent - Detained poet 'beaten across the face with electric cable'
- BCHR Report: Death threats and arrest as a direct result of expressing opinion, All in the name of “National Safety”
- English Pen - Bahrain: Poet and writer arrested; fears for their safety
- The Independent - Locked up for reading a poem
- The Telegraph - Female poet brought before Bahrain military tribunal
- Jadaliyya: A Poetry of Resistance: The Disappearance of Ayat al-Qormezi in Bahrain's “Hidden History”
- Documentary about Ayat
- A solidarity campaign for her release on Facebook
- English translation of her poem