Stories from Bahrain’s Crackdown: Ayat Al Gormezi, the Reform Poet
Widespread public protests calling for democratic reform in Bahrain began in February 2011. By mid-March 2011, the Bahrain government had begun a violent crackdown on the protestors and those it imagined had been its leaders. Journalists, human rights activists and medics were arrested in the following weeks. Many still remain in jail today, convicted on the basis of confessions forced under torture.
On March 30, 2011 Ayat al-Gormezi was arrested for reading a poem addressed to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in front of a crowd of pro-democracy protesters at the Pearl Roundabout.
In her poem she said “[w]e are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery…we are the people who will destroy the foundations of injustice.” Another poem aimed at the prime minister stated, “[y]ou must go. Take His Majesty with you, and leave your deeds behind.”
Al-Gormezi’s trial began on June 2, 2011 and on June 12 a Bahraini military court sentenced then 20-year old poet and student Ayat al-Gormezi to one year in prison for taking part in illegal protests, disrupting public security, and inciting hatred towards the regime.
Prior to her sentencing, al-Gormezi was forced to turn herself in after masked police raided her parent’s home and threatened her family. Al-Gormezi claimed that while she was in detention she was forced to sign a false confession, beaten and electrocuted, and was subject to harassment and intimidation. She was unable to speak with her family for the first fifteen days of her detention.
After serving two months in prison and amid massive pressure from human rights organizations and the international community, al-Gormezi was released on July 13, 2011 under the condition that she would not travel outside of Bahrain or speak to the media about her detention. Her sentence was not revoked.
Three years later, the restrictions on al-Gormezi’s release have not stopped her from voicing her calls for democracy and reform in Bahrain. She has become a symbol of resistance to repression, encouraging women to take to the streets and publicly express their opinions and stand up for justice.
Yet, her notoriety has not shielded her from being targeted by the Bahraini regime. On February 3, 2014, al-Gormezi was once again summoned for interrogation regarding a poem she recited on January 24, 2014 at an opposition rally. Since the interrogation, which was ordered from the Office of the Deputy of Public Security, al-Gormezi has been charged with insulting the king and inciting hatred against the ruling regime. She was released from custody after signing a pledge to appear at the police station upon request and with a referral of her case to the Public Prosecutor.
Al-Gormezi was one of the many women targeted by Bahraini security forces for peacefully exercising her freedom of expression during the February 2011 uprisings. No senior government official has been brought to account for her torture while in detention. The impunity, along with her continued harassment, is a constant reminder of the Bahrain monarchy’s crackdown, which shows little signs of abating.