A Bahraini poet faces possible imprisonment for reading out a poem criticizing the country’s King when a military court rules on her case next Sunday.
Ayat al-Qarmezi, 20, a poet and student was arrested in March for reading out a poem at a pro-reform rally in the capital Manama. She has been charged with "incitement to hatred of the regime" and has reportedly been tortured while in detention.
"Ayat al-Qarmezi has been put on trial merely for expressing her opinion, peacefully and openly. Her case represents an appalling and sinister attack on free speech. The charges against her should be dropped and she should be released immediately," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"If convicted, Ayat al-Qarmezi could face a long prison sentence. If she is imprisoned, she will be the first woman prisoner of conscience to be locked up in Bahrain for peacefully expressing her views," he added.
While attending a pro-reform rally in Manama’s Pearl Roundabout in February, Ayat al-Qarmezi read out a poem which she said was addressed to King Hamad bin 'Isa Al Khalifa, Bahrain's head of state.
Its lyrics include the lines "We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery/ Don’t you hear their cries, don’t you hear their screams?".
She was forced to turn herself in to the authorities on 30 March after masked police raided her parents' house repeatedly and reportedly threatened to kill her brothers unless she did so.
She was held incommunicado for the first 15 days of her detention and since then has only been permitted to see her family twice.
According to one informed source to whom Amnesty International has spoken, Ayat al-Qarmezi alleges that she was beaten in detention and tortured with electric shocks.
The Bahrain authorities say at least 24 people, including two police officers, have died in the unrest and clashes between police and demonstrators since pro-reform protests began in February.
At least 500 protesters have been detained and four have died in custody in suspicious circumstances. Some two thousand people have also been dismissed or suspended from their jobs, apparently as part of an ongoing purge of those who participated in the protests.