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Insulting Bahrain's king could cost you up to $26,500 and up to 7 years in jail

Bahrain's new law punishing those who insult the king comes just a week before the three-year anniversary of mass pro-democracy protests.

King hamad of bahrain at gcc 12 10 2013Enlarge
The King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, attends the 34th summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) at the Bayan Royal Palace in Kuwait City on Dec. 10, 2013. (YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images)

If you insult the king of Bahrain, be sure to have seven years free in your schedule and $26,500 in your bank account.

King Hamad approved a law this week that imposes a prison sentence of up to seven years and a fine of up to 10,000 dinars (the equivalent of $26,500) on anyone who insults him.

The new law is for “whoever has insulted, in any kind of public manner, the king of Bahrain, or its flag, or its national emblem,” according to Reuters.

A similar law existed previously, but Tuesday’s announcement from state media set specific jail terms for offenders.

Like many Gulf Arab states, Bahrain remains sensitive to opposition, especially when it comes to its ruling class. Bahrain has been particularly wary of dissent since mass protests began in February 2011.

For almost three years, Shia Muslims have led rallies calling for greater freedom and democracy in the Sunni-ruled country.

Authorities responded to the Arab Spring-inspired protests with a heavy hand, leading to groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations chastising the government of Bahrain.

Bahrain's new law punishing those who insult the king comes just a week before the three-year anniversary of the pro-democracy protests. The small archipelago situated between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has also been criticized for other human rights violations.

Here's a look at where Bahrain stands on human rights, according to HRW, Amnesty and the UN:

Human Rights Watch
In its 2014 world report, HRW said the prospects for reform in Bahrain remain “dim.” The New York-based rights group accused Bahraini authorities of illegal detentions and torture, and slammed the country for quashing free speech and freedom of assembly.

“Bahraini officials seem to think they can arrest and torture their way to peace and stability,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Official talk of reform is a joke at a time when peaceful critics of the government are labelled terrorists and kept in jail.”

HRW called upon the government to begin implementing reforms suggested by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was struck to investigate police response to mass protests of Feb. 14, 2011.

Amnesty International
On Tuesday, Amnesty International called on Bahrain to release 22-year-old protester Ahmed Mohammad Saleh al-Arab. He’s been behind bars for nearly a month, and told his family in brief telephone conversations he needs help for his shoulders after authorities strung him by his arms for five days. Al-Arab also told his family he might have broken ribs and he’s been denied sleep.

Amnesty International said Ahmed has never been presented before a judge despite his name being among others who were tried. “When his family sought to visit him a few days before in Jaw Prison, they were told they would not be able to do so until March 3, raising further fears about Ahmed’s health condition.”

On Jan. 31, Amnesty issued a similar call for action in the case of activist Zainab Al-Khawaja. She’s served several short sentences after her arrest for destroying government property, specifically ripping apart pictures of the king.

United Nations
Last September, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Bahrain to comply with its human rights commitments. Navi Pillay told the UN’s Human Rights Council that Bahrain’s record is a “serious concern.” She said the government must respect freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.

“The deep polarization of society and the harsh clampdown on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters continue to make a durable solution more difficult to secure,” Pillay said.

Reuters contributed to this report. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/140205/insulting-king-bahrain-carries-hefty-fines-jail-time