Poetry News

Ayat al-Qurmezi released from Bahraini prison

By Harriet Staff

We've previously remarked, here and here, about the jail time received by 20-year-old Bahraini student and poet Ayat al-Qurmezi, who read a poem at a pro-democracy protest led by the Shi'ite majority in February and March that led to a one-year sentence after a military court found her guilty of defaming Sunni royalty and inciting hatred.

Reuters now reports that Ayat al-Qurmezi has been suddenly released, on the condition that she should not take part in other protests:

Rights groups said Qurmozi was among some 200 people released after months in jail.

Qurmozi stepped out of her car on 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 not leave the country, 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.

In fact, she's already spoken. A report from The Independent today details Qurmozi's time in prison, even describing her 40-year-old female interrogator, an al-Khalifa holding a senior position in the security team, who volunteered to take part in questioning political detainees. The Independent continues:

The second night she was placed in another cell with the two vents for air conditioning producing freezing air. She was taken out for regular beatings. "I was very frightened," she said. "But I did not think they would kill me because every time I lost consciousness from the beatings, they called a doctor."

Surprisingly, for the first four or five days, the interrogators did not ask Ms Gormezi about reading out her poem in Pearl Square. They abused the Shia in general, saying they were "bastards" and not properly married (the accusation stems from the Shia institution of temporary marriage and is often used as an insult by Sunnis).

"When they did ask me about the poem, they kept saying: 'Who asked you to write it? Who paid you to write it?'" Ms Gormezi said. They insisted she must have been ordered to do so by Shia leaders in Bahrain or was a member of a political group, which she denies.

The interrogators also kept saying she must owe allegiance to Iran. An obsessive belief that Shia demands for equal rights in Bahrain must be orchestrated by Tehran has long been a central feature of Sunni conspiracy theorists. "They kept asking me: 'Why are you loyal to Iran? Why are you not loyal to your own country?'" Ms Gormezi said. "I said it was nothing to do with Iran. I am a Bahraini and I was only trying to express what the people want."

Originally Published: July 18th, 2011