Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Locked up for reading a poem

Ayat al-Gormezi, the woman who symbolises Bahrain's fight for freedom

By Patrick Cockburn
Thursday, 2 June 2011

"Bahrain's security forces are increasingly targeting women in their campaign against pro-democracy protesters despite yesterday lifting martial law in the island kingdom.

Ayat al-Gormezi, 20, a poet and student arrested two months ago after reading out a poem at a pro-democracy rally, is due to go on trial today before a military tribunal, her mother said. Ayat was forced to turn herself in when masked policemen threatened to kill her brothers unless she did so.

She has not been seen since her arrest, though her mother did talk to her once by phone and Ayat said that she had been forced to sign a false confession. Her mother has since been told that her daughter has been in a military hospital after being tortured.......

Ayat's call for change was no more radical than that heard in the streets of Tunis, Cairo and Benghazi at about the same time. But her reference to the king might explain the fury shown by the Bahraini security forces who, going by photographs of the scene, smashed up her bedroom when they raided her house and could not find her.

There are signs that Bahraini police, riot police and special security are detaining and mistreating more and more women. Many are held incommunicado, forced to sign confessions or threatened with rape, according to Bahraini human rights groups.

Bahrain is the first country affected by the Arab Spring where women have been singled out as targets for repression. Human rights groups say that hundreds have been arrested. Many women complain of being severely beaten while in custody. One woman journalist was beaten so badly that she could not walk.

A woman doctor, who was later released but may be charged, says she was threatened with rape. She told Reuters news agency that the police said: "We are 14 guys in this room, do you know what we can do to you? It's the emergency law [martial law] and we are free to do what we want.".....

Despite the lifting of martial law, imposed on 15 March, there is no sign of repression easing. Some 600 people are still detained, at least 2,000 have been sacked, and some 27 mosques of the Shia, who make up 70 per cent of the population, have been bulldozed.....

The targeting of women by the security forces may, like the destruction of mosques, have the broader aim of demonstrating to the Shia community that the Sunni elite will show no restraint in preventing the Shia winning political power. Shia leaders complain that the state-controlled media is continuing to pump out sectarian anti-Shia propaganda....."

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