Thursday, June 16, 2011

In Bahrain, a poet is arrested, beaten, and receives a one-year jail term

Ayat Al Qurmazi

The Arabist blog reports that on Sunday a court in Bahrain sentenced Ayat Al Qurmazi, a 20-year-old education student, to a year in prison for insulting the king and inciting hatred. Al Qurmazi became famous after reciting poetry in Pearl Square that includes the lines such as:

We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery
We are the people who will destroy the foundation of injustice
Don’t you hear their cries, don’t you hear their screams

You can see her reciting her poetry at a recent event — dedicated directly to the king — here.

According to the Associated Press, while in detention Al Qurmazi was lashed in the face with electrical cables and forced to clean toilets with her hands. A Facebook page, in Arabic, is dedicated to her case.

The Guardian UK has more details on the arrest:

Qurmezi was in her second year of study toward a teaching degree at the University of Bahrain when she joined the protesters in Pearl Square.

"My daughter did nothing wrong," her mother told The Associated Press from the family home in Sadad, a village in central Bahrain. "She didn't raise her hands in anger. She used words to express how they felt. She was only using her rights of free speech."

Across the Arab world, poetry is a powerful and popular form of expression. Thousands of works have extolled the so-called Arab spring, ranging from free-form verse in Cairo's Tahrir Square to literary figures such as Syria's Ali Esber, better known by his pen name Adonis, who has railed against Arab despots and last month was awarded Germany's Goethe prize. ...

Her mother said Qurmezi also was expelled from university apparently caught up in government-ordered purges of thousands of students, workers and others accused of backing the protests.

At least 31 people have been killed in the unrest in Bahrain. Amnesty said at least 500 people have been detained.

"How can they do this to my daughter?" her mother asked. "Is this fair?"

Two former parliament members, Jawad Fairooz and Mattar Mattar, also went on trial on Sunday as part of wide-ranging arrests and trials of perceived enemies of the ruling system. Both are members of the main Shia political group, Wefaq, whose 18 lawmakers resigned to protest the harsh measures against protesters.

In a statement, Wefaq said the poet's arrest is a "clear message that the government is against freedom of expression." ...

This is a sad and sobering reminder that freedom is a never-ending destination, and a goal never universally achieved. Every day, much hard work must be done just to speak and write freely, not only in Bahrain but around the world — America included.

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