Bahrain puts protest poet under house arrest
DUBAI (Reuters) - A young Bahraini Shi'ite poet sentenced to a year in prison told Reuters Thursday she had been released and placed under house arrest, but would continue to voice demands for democratic reforms to the Gulf island kingdom's constitutional monarchy.
Ayat al-Qurmozi, 20, was released Wednesday afternoon, a month after a military court sentenced her to a year in prison for reciting a poem mocking Bahrain's Sunni rulers and demanding the king step down during pro-democracy protests led by the Shi'ite majority in February and March.
"I hope Bahrain can move away from the crisis to a transition into a better future, without discrimination or sectarianism," Qurmozi told Reuters by telephone.
Bahrain crushed the protests and enforced a fierce crackdown in which hundreds, mostly Shi'ites, were arrested and some 2,000 people sacked from their jobs.
Rights groups said Qurmozi was among some 200 people released after months in jail.
Qurmozi stepped out of her car Wednesday to hundreds of well-wishers celebrating her release from prison, where she said she was beaten and forced to stick her hands in toilets during interrogations.
The government says there is no systematic abuse in its prisons and has vowed to investigate any charges of torture.
Qurmozi said she was made to sign a paper saying she would remain at home, not join protests and not speak to the media.
"I'm not afraid to speak out though. I have something to say and I won't be afraid because of a paper I signed," she said.
The kingdom's rulers blamed sectarianism and Iran's manipulation of its Shi'ite population for the protests. Qurmouzi said in the poem that led to her arrest that Sunnis and Shi'ites were united against Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
The young poet said she was surprised to learn small protests were still erupting daily in Shi'ite villages around Manama -- most are now demanding the opposition walk out of a national dialogue launched by the government.
Many Shi'ites are angry that not all prisoners have been released, including eight Shi'ite leaders given life terms by a military court. They also doubt the dialogue will ensure political reforms, such as a representative parliament.
"The demand isn't to overthrow the regime, but we want a real constitutional monarchy," Qurmozi said.
(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)
Protesters respond to calls to defend their demonstration from possible police intervention. Slideshow