Anonymous to strike as Bahrain backs jail sentences for king insults

Anonymous to strike as Bahrain backs jail sentences for king insults
The Bahraini government on Monday approved proposals to impose jail terms of up to 5 years for insulting the country’s king and national symbols. It comes amid protests against the coming F1 race in Manama, as Anonymous warns a new OpBahrain is on.

In their latest move against the dissent on the streets and in cyberspace, the Gulf state’s leaders have backed the proposals to prosecute the protesters with real jail terms.

New punishments include a fine of up to 10,000 dinars ($26,500), or sentenced to jail for up to five years for defaming the king of Bahrain, or Bahrain’s flag and coat of arms.

This law can now be widely applied to the anti-government protests taking place in the country, where chants against the ruling royal family can often be heard.

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa (left) and his son Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al-Khalif (right). (AFP Photo / Mohammed Al-Shaikh)

But tightening laws and crackdowns on protests, in which, according to estimates by various rights groups, some 80 protesters have been killed since 2011, and dozens others have been exposed to violence and torture, has not stopped Bahraini protesters from taking to the streets.

Recently, Bahrain has been rocked by clashes and demonstrations by pro-democracy activists against the Formula One Grand Prix race taking place in the country’s capital Manama on April 21. Both Bahraini and international activists voiced their concerns about the venue, saying it is “unethical” for both F1 and the FIA to be holding such an event in a country with political detainees still jailed and reported human rights violations not investigated.

Among those who couldn’t join the protests in person was the jailed human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, who’s still serving a two year prison term in connection with the February 2011 uprising in Bahrain. The opposition leader tweeted his support for the Formula One protesters from his prison cell.

Bahraini protesters hold up a placards during a demonstration in the capital Manama, on April 13, 2013. (AFP Photo / Mohammed Al-Shaikh)

Human Rights Watch said that some twenty Bahraini opposition activists have been arrested in towns near the Gulf country’s Sakhir race track since last week. The rights group claimed these arrests without warrants were “intended to intimidate” activists, along with “their families and their supporters.” The Bahraini authorities have denied that any such arrests have taken place.

The Anonymous hacktivist group has also been critical of the situation in Bahrain, and is now threatening to disrupt the anticipated F1 race in support of the protesters – at least on the cyber front.

“Anonymous will not stand by and allow you a race fueled by the blood of our freedom loving comrades in Bahrain… We are coming forward this year to wreck your little party again Mr. Eccelstone,” the group said in a statement addressing the F1 boss Bernnie Eccelstone and marking the launch of a new hacktivist action dubbed ‘Operation Bahrain.’

“We will remove you from the world wide web, whether you be Grand Prix or Bahrain government – we shall take it all down. We will expose the personal data of any person who supports this race in any way,” Anonymous vowed, urging the cancellation of the race before the festivities begin, and reminding of the group’s 2012 action, in which the Formula One websites were “shut down.”

Meanwhile, Bahrain has pledged to tighten security measures while hosting the race after a series of explosions, including a gas cylinder blast setting a car ablaze, rocked the country’s Financial Harbor district on Sunday. The February 14 Youth Coalition was allegedly behind the blasts, which caused no damage or injuries, but were treated as a message of possible violence ahead of the F1 race. The underground movement has recently promised that “volcanic flames will erupt,” should the motor race begin.

Unrest has been escalating in Bahrain since the quelled uprising of February 14, 2011, and protests are still frequent in the primarily Shiite, but Sunni-ruled nation. The talks between the opposition and the royal rulers appear to be in a deadlock in the Gulf country, which is also home to the US Fifth Fleet.

Bahraini riot police run for cover from petrol bombs thrown by anti-regime protestors during clashes following an anti-regime demonstration in solidarity with jailed political activists and against the upcoming Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix which will take in Manama on April 21, in the village of Sanabis, west of Manama, on April 13, 2013. (AFP Photo / Mohammed Al-Shaikh)