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UN expert: Saudi Arabia anti-terrorism policies threaten rights

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism [official website] Ben Emmerson said [press release] Thursday that Saudi Arabia's anti-terrorism laws are too broad and post a threat to individual rights. He said that Saudi Arabia's definition of terrorism, which includes "endangering 'national unity' or undermining 'the reputation or position of the State'" is over-inclusive and should conform to international law, which says terrorism must include "acts or threats of violence." Emmerson also expressed concern about the reported prosecution of writers and activists for non-violent actions. He urged Saudi Arabia's government to establish an "independent national security and due process review mechanism" to reexamine those prosecuted for political expression. Emmerson also voiced concern about Saudi Arabia failing to adequately investigate its counter-terrorism actions in Yemen, which the UN believes accounted for 60 percent of Yemeni civilian casualties.

Saudi Arabia's justice system has drawn international criticism for perceived human rights abuses in recent years. In February Human Rights Watch reported [JURIST report] that Saudi Arabia was intensifying actions against human rights advocates and writers. In January 2015 a Saudi judge sentenced prominent human rights lawyer Walid Abu al-Khair to an additional five years in jail [JURIST report] after he refused to show remorse for "showing disrespect" to authorities and creating an unauthorized association. In October 2014 a Saudi Arabia Court sentenced three lawyers to between five and eight years in prison for criticizing the justice system [JURIST report] on Twitter by accusing authorities of carrying out arbitrary detentions. Earlier that month Amnesty International issued a report claiming that Saudi Arabia persecutes rights activists and silences government critics [JURIST report], especially in the years since the Arab Spring in 2011. In July 2014 then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navy Pillay, expressed deep concern [JURIST report] over the harsh sentences and detention of peaceful human rights advocates in Saudi Arabia in recent months.

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