Poetry: a jailing offence in Bahrain

“Free Ayat now, Amnesty tells Bahrain regime”, says a headline in the Independent today, and yes, that’s exactly what ought to happen.

Ayat al-Qarmezi (sometimes transliterated as Gormezi) is the 20-year-old Bahraini student and poet who’s been jailed for a year for … reciting a poem at a protest.

Yes, absolutely scandalous behaviour. Here’s a part of the poem:

"We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery / Don’t you hear their cries, don’t you hear their screams?’"

I’m no poetry critic (a bit of Blake and Milton at university, that’s it) but I’m always keen to hear people “speaking poetically”, as it were. Why not? There’s more than enough deadening “management”-speak around isn’t there? (Indeed, Amnesty has even just appointed its own poet-in-residence. See this).

But no, the hyper-sensitive and increasingly repressive Bahraini authorities have deemed this highly subversive stuff. They've charged her with taking part in illegal protests, disrupting public security and publicly inciting hatred towards the regime, and now she’s languishing behind bars.

Please support the Amnesty appeal for Ayat here.

It’s great to see the Independent featuring her case again today, because … well, the Independent is another target of the Bahraini authorities’ ire. Nawaf Mohammed Al-Maawda of the country’s information affairs authority has announced the bizarre news that the Bahraini government is planning to sue the British newspaper for "orchestrating a defamatory and premeditated media campaign" against the Gulf state. Al-Maawda specifically cited the work of veteran (and Amnesty award-winning) journalist Robert Fisk.

Hmm. OK, it’s probably not nice for the Bahraini government to be labelled by Fisk the head of a “pocket-size weasel state”, but issuing a lawsuit against another country’s newspaper …? Some media law experts already doubt whether this is even legally possible.

By chance I was meeting Independent journalists at their office yesterday and they were pretty unfazed by it. They certainly didn’t sound like they were going to ease off on their coverage of things like the case of Ayat al-Qarmezi, the trial of the Salmaniya medics or the cancelled Grand Prix.

In my most poetic turn of phrase, I say: “Good for thee, thou valiant dispenser of news that doth shake the cage of those in high places”.

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