MANAMA: The king of Bahrain approved a law imposing a jail sentence of up to seven years and a fine of up to 10,000 dinars ($26,500) for anyone who publicly insults him.
King Hamad's measure highlights the sensitivity of Bahrain and other Persian Gulf Arab states to criticism of senior officials and ruling family members as well as to political dissent.
Courts in Kuwait and Qatar have imposed jail terms on several nationals for insulting their rulers in past years, Reuters reported Wednesday.
The new law, reported by the state Bahrain News Agency on Tuesday, says the penalties apply to "whoever has insulted, in any kind of public manner, the king of Bahrain, or its flag, or its national emblem."
A previous law stipulated that anyone who "offends the emir of the country, the national flag or emblem" would be jailed, but did not set a term. Under the penal code, any prison term must last 10 days to three years unless otherwise specified.
According to Bahraini lawyer Jalila Sayyed the new law stipulated a tougher prison sentence of one to seven years as well as a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 dinars for insulting the king.
The Persian Gulf Arab island state is a US ally which has long provided a base for the US Navy's Fifth Fleet. It has faced increasing criticism over its human rights record in the past three years.
Since mid-February 2011, thousands of pro-democracy protesters have staged numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to relinquish power.
According to the neutral Bahrain Center for Human Rights, though restrictive laws are already on the books in Bahrain and used by the authorities to criminalize freedom of expression, much harsher punishments were proposed and approved by the government.
They allow the police to crackdown on what is arbitrarily interpreted as insulting the King. The new law allows for long prison sentences that could reach up to seven years and significant financial fines.
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