By Andy Sambidge
Human Rights Watch calls on ruler to rethink plan to launch new counterterrorism legislation
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah should reject a new counterterrorism law that criminalises virtually any speech critical of the government or society, Human Rights Watch has said.
The Council of Ministers passed the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing last month and it awaits King Abdullah’s promulgation by royal decree to go into effect.
“King Abdullah should think long and hard before signing into law a definition of terrorism that would criminalise peaceful activities that have nothing to do with terrorist acts,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“King Abdullah should be easing the restrictions on Saudis’ rights, not setting in stone terrible counterterrorism measures.”
Saudi authorities have not released the text, 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.
Saudi Arabia’s denial of the rights to participate in public affairs, and freedom of religion, peaceful assembly, association, and expression, as well as its systematic discrimination against women greatly exceed any notion of justifiable restrictions, Human Rights Watch said.
It said that since 2011, Saudi authorities have increasingly pursued prosecutions of peaceful human rights and social activists, many of whom prosecutors have charged with the provisions contained in the new law’s definition of terrorism.
“The terrorism law would allow the government to label any Saudi who demands reform or exposes corruption as a terrorist,” Whitson said. “The Saudi government seems more focused on silencing peaceful activists than addressing on the real problem of terrorist violence.”