14 Jul 2011
A young Bahraini woman who was arrested after reciting an anti-government poem to demonstrators in the Gulf kingdom said she was beaten, electrocuted and threatened with sexual assault while in custody.
Ayat al-Qurmezi, 20, became one of the symbols of the protests that hit the center of the Bahraini capital, Manama in February and March. After she was arrested, reports circulated that she had been whipped and even at one point raped and killed, leading to an improvement in her conditions and her release on Wednesday evening.
Greeted by a crowd of hundreds of people at her home, she told her family she had not been sexually assault but threatened as well as being electrocuted with clips attached to her face.
She also denied that she had committed treason by attacking the king, saying she wanted reform not revolution. “The demand isn’t to overthrow the regime, but we want a real constitutional monarchy,” she said to reporters.
Miss al-Qurmezi, a member of the Shia majority who was at teacher training college when the protests began in February, was filmed reciting poems to a huge crowd at Pearl Roundabout, the epicenter of the demonstrations.
One featured a conversation between Satan and King Hamad in which they outlined the complaints of the opposition, mostly Shia calling for the Sunni royal family and elite to share power.
Another, addressed to the prime minister, said: “You must go. Take His Majesty with you, and leave your deeds behind.”
After her family received threats, she gave herself up to the authorities in March and put in a narrow cell at a police station. Meanwhile, Bahrain security forces backed by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates dispersed the protesters. Altogether, about 30 people were killed, while four more protesters died in custody.
“She was beaten with a hose and electrocuted,” Miss al-Qurmezi’s brother, Yusuf, told The Daily Telegraph on Thursday. “They put the clips on her lips and on other parts of her face.
“They did not rape her but they told her they would. They put her in a narrow cell. Through the wall she could hear the screams of men who were being beaten. They would come and tell her, ‘you are next’.”
State media and pro-government activists, mostly Sunnis, attacked her and claimed she had incited racial hatred, by insulting naturalized Bahrainis and Indian residents, and called for violence against the king. She was jailed for a year last month by a military court.
One commentator wrote: “Al-Qurmezi was not interrogated because of the poem. Rather, it was because she read the poem in public and insulted the Monarchy, enraging the formerly silent majority who demanded her arrest.”
Miss al-Qurmezi said she remained under house arrest and although released early the charges on which she had been jailed had not been dropped. “I hope Bahrain can move away from the crisis to a transition into a better future, without discrimination or sectarianism,” she said.
Hundreds of people were detained following the crackdown, including more than 40 doctors and nurses from the main Al-Salmaniya Hospital. Eight leading activists have also been handed life imprisonment.
However, the government has been attempting to restore its reputation in recent weeks, returning trials to the civilian courts, announcing a “national dialogue” with the opposition, and commissioning a high level panel of international human rights experts to conduct an inquiry into the events of February and March.
Source: The Daily Telegraph.