Saturday, July 16, 2011

Arrests force Bahrain's writers into exile

Journalists say they have been targets of government repression since pro-democracy protests began earlier this year.

Matthew Cassel

"Writer Ali al-Jallawi says he was lucky to end up in exile and not in prison after leaving his native Bahrain in April.

Speaking by phone to Al Jazeera from a UK border agency detention facility outside London, al-Jallawi, a published novelist and poet, said he would rather leave his country than go to prison again. In 1993, al-Jallawi was arrested and imprisoned for six months at the age of 17 for a poem he wrote criticising the monarchy. In 1995, he was again arrested and served three years for campaigning for civil and political rights in Bahrain, he said.

"To get arrested for a third time is too much," said al-Jallawi. "I have a ten-year-old son who I want to spend time with. It's too much to spend more time in jail."

Bahriaini writers - journalists, academics, novelists, poets, bloggers, and others - have been targets of state repression since pro-democracy protests began in February.....

Sending a message

On March 30, 20-year-old Ayat al-Qarmezi was arrested weeks after reading a poem at Pearl Roundabout, the epicenter of the protest movement. In her poem, al-Qarmezi read the words: "We are the people who kill humiliation and assassinate misery. We are the people who will destroy the foundation of injustice."

Al-Qarmezi also criticised the nation's monarchy and led chants condemning sectarianism calling Sunnis and Shias "brothers". After her arrest, Amnesty International said that freedom of speech and assembly was "brutally denied to ordinary Bahrainis".

Chasing the 'wanted'

Since the protests began, pro-government groups posted the names and pictures of individuals "wanted" by the state on various websites. Many were called "traitors," and accused of "inciting violence" and "promoting sectarianism".

Many of those who didn't turn themselves into authorities went into hiding. "Wanted" men left their wives and children to seek refuge, and others stayed at home waiting for the inevitable middle-of-the-night police raid to take them....."

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