Leading article: A small step in the right direction

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The Independent Online

The release of Ayat al-Gormezi, the young woman who has become a symbol of resistance to royal tyranny in Bahrain, is welcome as far as it goes. In June, the courts jailed the 20-year-old for a year for having had the temerity to read out a poem that was deemed insulting to the King of Bahrain.

Referring to the royal government's harsh treatment of pro-democracy protesters in February, she asked: "Don't you hear their cries. Don't you hear their screams?" For those words of lèse majesté she was arrested and jailed, after which her family says that she was beaten on the face, lashed with electric cables and kept in a cell in near-freezing conditions. Her treatment apparently improved somewhat before she was sentenced two months later.

It is good that she is free after completing only a month of her prison term. But no one should mistake this for a sign that things are changing for the better in Bahrain. Al-Gormezi's release was an arbitrary act of royal clemency, not the result of the independent judicial process in which the courts recognising that they had been wrong to jail her in the first place. She would probably still be behind bars had it not been for an international outcry on her behalf. Such releases are reminiscent of the old Soviet tactics of selectively freeing high-profile convicts whose presence in jail had become an international embarrassment. Such acts had no effect on almost countless others whose jail sentences had not received similar exposure abroad.

Only when Bahrain ends the travesty of trying anti-government protesters in special military courts, releases the scores of detained opposition activists and starts genuine dialogue with forces calling for political change, can the country be regarded asmaking real progress.