MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain's government has backed proposals to impose penalties of up five years in prison for insulting the Gulf state's king or its national symbols, the media said Monday. It's the latest move across the region against dissent on the streets and online.
Gulf leaders have sharply escalated efforts to muzzle criticism since the Arab Spring uprisings, which include more than two years of clashes between Sunni-led authorities and majority Shiites seeking a greater political voice.
Bahrain's Cabinet approved proposals to impose jail terms up to five years and fines of 10,000 dinars ($26,500) for defaming the king or Bahrain's flag or coat of arms. It's unclear how widely the new laws could be applied, but anti-government protests often include chants against the king in the strategic island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
Last week, Kuwait announced a new media law that could bring fines of about $1 million for insulting the emir. Dozens of people across the Gulf have been arrested for social media posts considered offensive to rulers.
Meanwhile, Bahrain is pledging to expand security before hosting next week's Formula One race after a series of explosions, including a gas cylinder blast that set a car ablaze in the Gulf nation's financial district.
The attacks caused no injuries and limited damage, but sent a message that anti-government militants could step up violence in attempts to embarrass officials before Sunday's F1, the premier international event in the kingdom.
Bahrain's Interior Ministry said the four blasts happened in quick succession late Sunday, ending with the gas canister explosion inside a stolen car in Bahrain's Financial Harbor.
Bahrain's government spokeswoman, Samira Rajab, said "all the needed security" would be provided to protect fans and F1 teams.
More than 60 people have been killed in Bahrain's unrest. Some rights groups place the death toll higher.