By Daniel Shane
Law allows for extended detention of terror suspects and grants sweeping new powers to Interior Ministry
A new law in Saudi Arabia intended to give authorities broader powers to clamp down on terrorism will further entrench human rights abuses and suppress peaceful political dissent, a lobbyist group said.
The kingdom’s Law for the Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing, which took effect at the start of this month, grants wider powers to the Ministry of Interior to circumvent the judiciary and allows for suspects to be held for 90 days without legal representation, Amnesty International said.
The group, which expressed its concerns over a draft of the law two years ago, said that the law effectively legalised a number of human rights violations, including detention of up to a year without charge.
“This disturbing new law confirms our worst fears – that the Saudi Arabian authorities are seeking legal cover to entrench the ability to crack down on peaceful dissent and silence human rights defenders,” said Said Boumedouha, Middle East and Africa programme deputy director at Amnesty.
Under the new law, definitions of terrorist crimes include “endangering national unity” and “harming the reputation of the state and its standing”, which Amnesty says are vague and open to abuse.
The activation of the law comes just months after the Gulf kingdom ascended to its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Saudi authorities have increasingly cracked down on dissent among its predominantly Shi’ite Muslim population in the east of the country following the start of the Arab Spring protests three years ago. The kingdom is fearful of unrest in neighbouring Bahrain spilling over within its borders and has previously accused regional Shi’ite power Iran of meddling in its internal affairs.
Just a correction. The population in the East of the country is not predominantly shiite. While the majority of shiites in KSA reside in the Eastern Province, the majority in the East are still sunni.