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Thu 28 Jul 2011 07:24 AM

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Saudi Islamic activists blast anti-terror law

Group asks religious scholars to condemn law ‘aiming to seize citizens’ rights’

Saudi Islamic activists blast anti-terror law
King Abdullah has reacted with alarm to the spread of popular protests across the Middle East, sending troops to Bahrain to help quash dissent

Islamist activists in Saudi Arabia have condemned government
plans to pass an anti-terrorism law which international rights groups fear will
be used to crackdown on dissent in the absolute monarchy.

The unofficial Islamic Umma party, which was set up in
February, posted on its website a call for religious scholars to speak out
against what it called, "laws that aim to seize the citizens' right to
criticise the government".

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that rules in alliance
with Islamic clerics and follows an austere version of Sunni Islam. A ruling
circle including the king and senior princes maintains a system that bans
political parties and public protests. It has an appointed body with limited
legislative powers that acts as a quasi-parliament.

Amnesty International on Friday published leaked copies of
the Draft Penal Law for Terrorism Crimes and Financing Terrorism, saying it
would allow extended detentions without charge or trial which can be used
against peaceful opposition.

Saudi Arabia rejected the accusation, saying the law will be
used against militants. Al Qaeda launched a campaign against Riyadh in 2003 but
it petered out in 2006 after a security crackdown in cooperation with Western
security agencies.

The draft law imposes a minimum 10-year jail sentence for
anyone who criticised the king or crown prince and would consider
"endangering... national unity" and "harming the reputation of
the state or its position" as terrorism crimes.

It also grants the Interior Minister wide-ranging powers to
take action to protect internal security, without requiring judicial
authorisation or oversight.

"The penal law, which considers criticism of the
government a terrorist crime, is not in accordance with Islamic sharia,"
the Umma party said in a statement on its website.

It urged scholars to speak out against it. Scholars in Saudi
Arabia have a major influence. Almost no Saudis answered a call for protest on
March 11 after religious scholars in the kingdom issued fatwas (religious
edicts) banning protests.

The group's leader, Abdelaziz al-Wohaiby, has been in
detention since February, though other founding members were released after a
few days in custody.

Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil exporter and a US
ally, has reacted with alarm to the spate of popular protests spreading
throughout the Middle East.

It sent troops to Bahrain to help suppress protests, hosts
exiled Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and is hosting Yemen's President
Ali Abdullah Saleh after he was seriously wounded in a bomb attack in June.