In Times Like These, Poetry Is a Road to a Bahraini Jail

June 16, 2011

Bahraini poet Ayat al-Qarmezi. © Private

In this season of uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa, governments consider even poetry subversive.  Now a young Bahraini student is looking at a year in jail for reading a poem criticizing the Bahraini king.

Ayat al-Qarmezi, 20, a poet and student was convicted by a military court after an unfair trial. She was charged with taking part in illegal protests, disrupting public security and publicly inciting hatred toward the regime. She was arrested in March for reading out a poem at a pro-reform rally in the capital Manama.

The poem’s lyrics include 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?”

She was forced to turn herself in to the authorities on March 30 after masked police raided her parents’ house repeatedly and reportedly threatened to kill her brothers unless she did so.

One colleague of the young poet has also told Amnesty International that she has been beaten and tortured.  In addition, the use of military courts to try civilians fails to meet international standards for fair trials.  Download our Urgent Action with information on how you can help free Ayat al-Qarmezi.

According to Amnesty’s director for the Middle East and North Africa Malcolm Smart:

“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.”

Amnesty International believes the charges against Ayat al-Qarmezi should be dropped and she should be released immediately, and all allegations of torture should be investigated in an independent and public manner.  It also goes without saying that the use of military courts to try civilians needs to end now.

But the case is just one among many disturbing instances of human rights abuses as protests in are met by violence by security forces and legal action by the Bahrain government, one of the U.S.’ closest strategic allies in the region.  A trial of dozens of doctors and nurses, charged because they treated protesters injured by security forces, is scheduled to resume in a few weeks.  A large trial of opposition leaders is also ongoing.

In his recent speech on the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama criticized the abuses he saw in Bahrain.  But beyond these words, our government has failed to take effective action to pressure Bahrain to rein in their security and judicial forces.

The US government’s silence only means we have to be louder.  Ayat al-Qarmezi’s case has attracted the attention of writers everywhere including PEN International.

Amnesty International launched a Twitter action on Bahrain yesterday (June 15).  Click here to take part.