By Courtney Trenwith
Human Rights Watch says new law in the kingdom will see people locked up for “peaceful activities that have nothing to do with terrorism”
Saudi Arabia’s controversial new counter-terrorism law that effectively bans criticism of the government and the kingdom’s rulers has come into effect.
The legislation criminalises acts that disturb public order, defame the reputation of the state or threaten the kingdom’s unity, and has raised concerns among activists that it could be used to quash political dissent.
The government says it is intended to combat terrorism and impose tough penalties on those who fund it.
The law gives security forces the right to arrest and hold a suspect for up to six months, with the option to extend detention for a further six months.
The legislation was passed by the council of ministers in December and came into effect on Saturday.
Last month, Human Rights Watch said the kingdom’s definition of terrorism would lead to arrests for peaceful activities that “have nothing to do with terrorist acts”.
Saudi authorities have not released the text of the law, but HRW said its definition of terrorism is similar to that in a 2011 draft which it said had "serious flaws" including an overbroad definition of terrorism, unwarranted limits on speech, assembly, and association, excessive police powers without judicial oversight and violations of due process and the right to a fair trial.
The rights group said that while protecting public order and national security are recognised in international human rights law as legitimate purposes for limiting certain other rights under narrow circumstances, vague and overbroad legal provisions cannot be the basis for overriding a broad array of fundamental rights.