Bahraini Aristocrat Accused of Repeatedly Beating Imprisoned Poet for Lack of Loyalty to Al-Khalifa Family
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A female member of the al-Khalifa royal family in Bahrain has been accused of repeatedly beating the 20-year-old student poet Ayat al-Gormezi when she was in prison accused of reciting a poem at a pro-democracy protest rally criticising the monarchy.
In an interview with The Independent, Ms Gormezi, who became a symbol of resistance to oppression in Bahrain, said that although her interrogators had tried to blindfold her, "I was able to see a woman of about 40 in civilian clothes who was beating me on the head with a baton". Ms Gormezi later described her interrogator to prison guards, who, she said, promptly named the woman as being one of the al-Khalifas with a senior position in the Bahraini security service.
"I was taken many times to her office for fresh beatings," Ms Gormezi said. "She would say, 'You should be proud of the al-Khalifas. They are not going to leave this country. It is their country.' "
The guards explained that it wasnot her regular job, but she had volunteered to take part in questioning political detainees.
Ms Gormezi was detained on 30 March at her parents' house after spending two weeks in hiding when the government, backed by a Saudi-led force, started a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests in mid-March. She had been targeted by the authorities after she read out a poem at a rally in February which contained the lines: "We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery. We are the people who will destroy injustice."
Addressing King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa directly, she said of the Bahraini people: "Don't you hear their cries? Don't you hear their screams?" As she finished speaking the crowd roared: "Down with Hamad!"
Subjected to nine days of torture after her detention, Ms Gormezi described how she was beaten across the face with electric cables, kept in a tiny, freezing cell and forced to clean lavatories with her bare hands. All the while, she was beaten on the head and the body until she lost consciousness. "Many of the guards were Yemenis and Jordanians," she said. The recruitment of members of the Bahraini security forces from foreign Sunni states is one of the grievances of Bahrain's Shia majority, which says it is excluded from such jobs.
In a phone interview after her release, Ms Gormezi said she does not regret reading her poem in Pearl Square, the centre of Bahrain's democratic protests in February and March. "What I said was not a personal attack on the King or the Prime Minister but I was just expressing what the people want. I have written poetry since I was a child, but not about politics. I did not think it was dangerous at the time. I was just expressing my opinion."
After the crackdown on protesters in Bahrain started in mid-March, the tall monument in Pearl Square was demolished and even the Bahraini coin showing it was withdrawn. Anybody supporting the protests was in danger of detention and torture. Ms Gormezi's family sent her to stay with relatives, which she "did not want to do. But after two weeks the security forces threatened my family and I had to give myself up. As I was taken away in a car, my family were told to pick me up at a police station the following day, so they thought it was not serious".
Her mistreatment started immediately. She said: "There were four men and one woman in the car, all wearing balaclavas. They beat me and shouted 'you are going to be sexually assaulted! This is the last day of your life!'" They also made anti-Shia remarks. "I was terrified of being sexually assaulted or raped, but not of being beaten."