A man who insulted the King of Bahrain on Twitter has been sentenced to six months in jail as the tiny island nation ramps up its crackdown on dissent amid increasingly violent protests.
The man, whose name was not released, was one of four on trial for “defaming” King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, with the rest to be sentenced next week. It came as hundreds took to the streets to voice their anger over a ban on protesting.
The monarchy brutally stamped out a pro-democracy uprising last year but tensions between the government and protesters have been building once more, with marches taking place near daily in recent weeks and often ending in violent clashes with molotov cocktails and tear gas exchanged. Two protesters have been shot dead by security forces in recent weeks.
A ban on protesting - the most significant rolling back of freedoms since the government temporarily imposed martial law last year - was announced this week, but has only served to stoke tensions. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said that “repeated abuse” of the right to freedom of speech had forced them to make the move, adding that the ban was intended to be temporary.
As protesters gathered following Friday prayers today, activists said a 12-year-old was among those injured as riot police fired tear gas, with the canister hitting him in the head. In Duraz, a village west of the capital Manama, activists said a small protest of a few hundreds was met with disproportionate force, with almost the same number of security forces deployed.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged Bahrain to lift the protest ban saying it could “aggravate the situation” in the country, while the US has said it is “deeply concerned” by the ban.
The ruling in the defamation case follows a string of similar cases in Bahrain elsewhere in the Gulf, where monarchies have showed little tolerance for criticism in the wake of uprisings elsewhere in the region. All four men had denied wrongdoing when they appeared in court last month.