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Sun 7 Aug 2011 07:42 AM

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Saudi reshapes controversial anti-terror law

Redrafted law is less severe and ‘does not violate citizen’s rights’, says spokesman

Saudi reshapes controversial anti-terror law
Saudi activists had urged King Abdullah to revise the planned anti-terrorism law

Saudi Arabia has revised an anti-terrorism law and made it
less severe than a leaked version that was heavily criticised by human rights
groups, a Shura Council spokesman said on Saturday.

"The draft that was published is not the final
one," said Mohammed Almohanna, spokesman for the advisory parliament.

"It was discussed in a Shura Council session. It was a
draft and some changes were made to it to ensure that the law is compatible
with Sharia [Islamic law] and does not violate citizens' rights or the
country's existing laws," he said.

He said the Shura would amend the draft further when its
summer recess ends in mid-September before sending it to the king for approval.

Amnesty International, which published a draft of the Penal
Law for Terrorism Crimes and Financing Terrorism on its website, said on July
22 that the authorities could use the law to stifle dissent and pro-democracy
protests in the absolute monarchy.

Saudi Arabia, a US ally and top world oil exporter, follows
an austere version of Sunni Islam. It has no political parties. The appointed
Shura Council has only limited powers.

The draft law, in the version published by Amnesty, would
consider "endangering... national unity" and "harming the
reputation of the state or its position" as terrorist crimes, and would
allow suspects to be held incommunicado for an indefinite period, if approved
by a special court.

It would also stipulate a minimum 10-year jail sentence for
questioning the integrity of the king or crown prince.

But an amendment to the draft changes the offence to taking
up arms against the king or crown prince or abandoning loyalty to them, Saudi
activist Waleed Abu Alkhair said.

He said the Shura Council's changes might be overridden.
"There is trepidation that the amendments will not be accepted... It is
clear that there was an attempt to pass this quickly and secretly," Abu
Alkhair said.

The draft law version on Amnesty's website was marked
"secret and urgent" and indicated that the council would have one
month from an unspecified date to make changes to the law.

The draft law would also give the Interior Minister broad
powers to act to protect internal security without judicial authorisation or
oversight.

Activists say thousands of people are held in Saudi prisons
without charge or access to lawyers, despite a law that limits detention
without trial to six months. The draft law would largely formalise such practices.

"We witnessed severe violations by the Interior
Ministry and the executive authorities which we used to criticise as violations
of the law. Now, if this law is passed, these criticisms will be considered
violations of the law and the former violations will become laws," Abu
Alkhair said.