Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Tuesday morning, back to London, just in time to chair a symposium on Bahrain in No 1 Abbey Gardens, unfortunately the last of a long series we have held in this building as the lease has expired and its being returned to the Abbey.

We had some gripping testimony over a Skype link from Ayat al-Ghormezi, an articulate 20-year old poet who was arrested at midnight on March 39 and after being helf in solitary confinement and tortured for several weeks, was sentenced to a year's imprisonment on charges of “inciting hatred of the regime" for a poem she wrote criticising the regime and for "being involved in a rally to commit crimes”, after attending a demonstration at the Pearl roundabout with many hudreds of others. In the end she was released as a result of huge international pressure from poets, writers and artists across the world.

We also hear from Mohammed al-Tajer, also detained in a night raid on his home by more than two dozen uniformed and plainclothes security officers, most of whom were masked, on the evening of April 15, 2011. Like Ayat and almost everyone else arrested in the crackdown since February, Mohammed suffered intense torture, and we asked both our witnessed whather they had been able to communicate with the Bassiouni commission, which is investigating allegations of torture and other human rights violations in Bahrain with a view to reporting in October. But however thorough the commission may be, and however willing the government to accept their recommendations, it can do nothing to address the fact that Bahrain is a hereditary dictatorship, in which the king has power to reverse any concessions that may be needed to appease international opinion. As Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary remarked on Radio 4 last evening at about 22.30, "If you don't allow change to be a process then it can become an event"; but a process can only start if the vicious sentences passed on the many political detainees including Hassan Mushaima, Leader of the Opposition, are unconditionally cancelled, and if the al-Khalifa dictatorship is genuinely prepared to change itself into a constitutional monarchy. Seeing the tenacious resistance to reform in every other Arab state since the Arab spring, this is an improbable scenario, and one that could only happen if there is concerted pressure by the UN, the EU, the US, and democratic NGOs throughout the world.
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