Amnesty International has strongly criticised plans by the Bahrain government to increase the sentence for anybody found guilty of insulting King Hamad to five years imprisonment. In a statement, Amnesty writes:
According to state media, Bahrain’s cabinet – chaired by the Prime Minister and the newly appointed deputy Prime Minister, the Crown Prince – on Sunday endorsed an amendment to Article 214 of the Penal Code, increasing the penalty for offending King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah or the country’s flag and other national symbols.
The amendment, which has now been referred to the National Assembly, would make such offences punishable by up to five years in prison in addition to steep fines.
“Increasing the punishment for criticism of Bahrain’s King is a further attempt to muzzle activists ahead of the upcoming Grand Prix,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“The authorities’ reliance on a vaguely worded criminal ‘offence’ to avoid scrutiny of their record says a lot about their own failures and lack of commitment to reform.
“Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Bahraini authorities to repeal articles of the Penal Code used to criminalize freedom of expression, including Article 214 which this measure would amend to increase the punishment to up to five years in prison.”
Six people were arrested on March 12th for “defaming the King on Twitter”. In November 2012, three citizens received jail sentences up to six months for tweeting insults against the King.