Bahrain draws line between criticism and offense

Protection of national symbols to preserve unity

DUBAI - Bahrain announced Tuesday tougher jail sentences for offending King Hamad, as the country prepares to mark the third anniversary of a Shiite-led uprising.
An amendment to the 1976 penal code says that "publicly offending the king of Bahrain, its national flag or emblem" will carry a minimum one-year and a maximum seven-year sentence, as well as a fine of up to $26,000 (19,260 euros), state news agency BNA reported.
The sentence can exceed seven years if the "offence was committed in the presence of the king," the report added, without providing details.
Previously, the same charges carried a minimum sentence of only a few days.
In 2012, a criminal court jailed two activists for one and four months, respectively, after their conviction for posting on Twitter remarks deemed insulting to the king.
Demonstrators, that sometimes chant "Down with Hamad," frequently clash with security forces in Shiite villages outside the capital.