A proposed Saudi Arabian counterterrorism law [text, in Arabic] would allow authorities to prosecute anti-government protestors, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] announced [press release] Friday. AI revealed that the Draft Penal Law for Terrorism Crimes and Financing of Terrorism seeks to punish those who "question the integrity of the King or Crown Prince," with minimum penalties amounting to 10 years in prison. The law permits authorities to extend detention of suspects without charge or trial and authorizes incommunicado detention. AI also contends that the legislation's definition of "terrorist crimes" is broad and would allow authorities to prosecute protestors for a wide range of conduct. AI Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther expressed concern for the law's implications on human rights and called on Saudi Arabian authorities to reconsider the law:
This draft law poses a serious threat to freedom of expression in the Kingdom in the name of preventing terrorism. If passed it would pave the way for even the smallest acts of peaceful dissent to be branded terrorism and risk massive human rights violations. At a time when people throughout the Middle East and North Africa have been exercising their legitimate right to express dissent and call for change, Saudi Arabian authorities have been seeking to squash this right for its citizens. King Abdullah must reconsider this law and ensure that his people's legitimate right to freedom of expression is not curtailed in the name of fighting terrorism.AI further claims that the draft law conflicts with international human rights treatises such as the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) [text].
The proposed law comes in response to recent civil unrest in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern and North African nations, but this is not the first time Saudi Arabia has been criticized for rigid counterterrorism practices. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF] in 2009 that Saudi Arabia was illegally detaining thousands [press release] under the auspices of combating terrorism. The report echoed another AI report [text; JURIST report] which claimed that Saudi Arabian officials were allegedly using anti-terrorism measures as an excuse to secretly detain, imprison, torture and even kill thousands of people. In February 2009, the US Department of State released its 2008 Report on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia [text; JURIST report], in which it identified several significant human rights issues, including denial of public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system, detention of political prisoners, incommunicado detention and lack of government transparency. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz [official website, in Arabic] announced in October 2008 that the kingdom had indicted 991 [Reuters report] suspected al Qaeda members. HRW sought access [HRW request] to the trials in an attempt to ensure compliance with international standards, but was denied.