MANAMA, Bahrain, April 16 (UPI) -- A proposal to hike punishment for criticizing the king of Bahrain is an attempt to stifle protests ahead of the Grand Prix race, a human rights group charges.
The bill "is a further attempt to muzzle activists ahead of the upcoming Grand Prix" later this week, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, AI's deputy program director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.
"The authorities' reliance on a vaguely worded criminal 'offense' to avoid scrutiny of their record says a lot about their own failures and lack of commitment to reform," Sahraoui added.
In November, three Bahrainis were jailed for terms of four to six months for messages they posted on their Twitter accounts that were considered insulting to the king, AI said. Last month, six people were arrested for defaming the king on Twitter.
By sponsoring the F1 race, Bahrain has tried to position itself as a progressive nation. However, protests in 2011 demanding reform and democracy caused the postponement and eventual cancellation of that year's race, the BBC reported.
The king named a panel of human rights experts to investigate the causes of the protests. He accepted the panel's findings, which were critical of his government, and promised reforms. However, critics say little has changed.