Bahrain releases poet who became a symbol of resistance to regime

The 20-year-old Bahraini poet Ayat al-Gormezi, jailed and tortured for reading a poem critical of the government at a pro-democracy rally, has been suddenly released – though her sentence has not been revoked.

The international outcry over the mistreatment of the student, who became a symbol of resistance to the crackdown in the island, probably led the government to free her.

After being initially beaten across the face, she had been lashed with electric cables, kept in a near freezing cell and forced to clean police lavatories with her hands, though her treatment in prison had improved recently.

Ayat was greeted by cheering crowds in her neighbourhood near Hamad town outside the capital after her unexpected release.

Her family say they are delighted that she is free although they are worried about her future. They fear that she might be re-arrested, as she has not been pardoned and her release was not the result of an appeal against her one-year sentence.

At the height of the pro-democracy protests in Pearl Square in February, Ayat had recited a poem addressed to King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa that included the lines: "We will kill humiliation and assassinate misery. Don't you hear their cries? Don't you hear their screams?"

She was arrested in March after being forced to give herself up when security forces threatened to kill her brothers if she did not do so.

At first her family did not know what had happened to her and endured additional mental torture when pictures of their missing daughter began to appear on dating websites.

Government repression since mid-March has been extremely severe, and hospital doctors and nurses who treated injured protesters have been tortured and forced to confess that they were part of an armed conspiracy against the monarchy, that had been backed by Iran.

A Saudi-led military force moved into the island, and mosques and other religious meeting places belonging to the Shia majority were bulldozed and destroyed on the grounds that they did not have building permission.

There are limited signs that the release of Ayat is more than an attempt to defuse international criticism of human rights abuses in Bahrain.

The king has called for a dialogue on reforms, and the country's main opposition group, al-Wifaq, representing the Shia majority, has now decided at the last minute to enter into discussions with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Earlier this week al-Wifaq walked out of a meeting on Bahrain's controversial naturalisation laws under which they accuse the Sunni rulers of naturalising Sunnis in a bid to change Bahraini demographics. The walk out happened after a Sunni representative called the Shia heretics, implying they had come from Iran.

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