Poetry News

Bahraini Poet Sentenced to One Year in Prison

By Harriet Staff

Twenty-year-old Ayat al-Qurmezi, who was on trial last week in Bahrain for reading a poem critical of her government, has been sentenced to a year in prison, The Guardian reports, though she has already been in holding since her arrest in March, and claims she has been beaten. The poem, as we mentioned, included the lines, "We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery. Don't you hear their cries? Don't you hear their screams?" al-Qurmezi was convicted of anti-state charges, including inciting hatred. Human rights groups have denounced the outcome. The government, while no longer under marshal law, remains heavy-handed:

Bahrain's monarchy and its Gulf Arab allies fear Shia power Iran could use instability in Bahrain to gain new footholds for influence. A 1,500-strong Gulf force led by Iran's main regional rival, Saudi Arabia helped crush the protests and is expected to remain in Bahrain indefinitely.

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.

"By locking up a female poet merely for expressing her views in public, Bahrain's authorities are demonstrating how free speech and assembly are brutally denied to ordinary Bahrainis," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and north Africa.

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.

In a supplement to a May article, The New York Review of Books points us today to The Campaign for Peace and Democracy, which is gathering signatures regarding the continuing repression in Bahrain. You can sign the statement of support here.

Originally Published: June 13th, 2011