HRW: Saudi Arabia’s New Counterterrorism Law May Be Used to Oppress Peaceful Opposition

2017-11-24 - 8:29 م

Bahrain Mirror: Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today that Saudi Arabia's new counterterrorism law includes vague and overly broad definitions of acts of terrorism, in some cases punishable by death.

"Saudi authorities are already methodically silencing and locking away peaceful critics on spurious charges," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of improving abusive legislation, Saudi authorities are doubling down with the ludicrous proposition that criticism of the crown prince is an act of terrorism."

The Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing, published on November 1, 2017, strips away extensive powers from the Interior Ministry, which Saudi authorities reorganized in 2017, and transfers them to the newly established Public Prosecution and Presidency of the State Security, both bodies that report directly to the king.

The new law carries an overly broad definition of terrorism similar to the previous law. Unlike the previous definition, the new one includes a specific reference to violence with the clause "harm an individual or result in their death, when the purpose - by its nature or its context - is to terrorize people or force a government or international organization to carry out or prevent it from carrying out an action."

The new law, however, does not restrict the definition of terrorism to violent acts. Other conduct it defines as terrorism includes "disturbing public order," "shaking the security of the community and the stability of the State," "exposing its national unity to danger," and "suspending the basic laws of governance," all of which are vague and have been used by Saudi authorities to punish peaceful dissidents and activists. Prominent human rights activists Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammed al-Qahtani are serving 11-year and 10-year sentences respectively, based on charges that contain similar language. Human rights activist Essam Koshak is currently on trial on similar charges.

Given the new law's vague definition of terrorism, which could allow authorities to continue to target peaceful criticism, other provisions of the law raise alarms, Human Rights Watch said. Article 34, for example, provides a prison term of three to eight years for anyone who supports, promotes, sympathizes with, or incites terrorism. Article 35 stipulates a sentence of no less than 15 years for anyone who "misuse[s] their status in any way either academic or social status or media influence to promote terrorism."

The new law undermines due process and fair trial rights, Human Rights Watch said. Instead of amending the law to strengthen the role of the judiciary, it grants the public prosecution and the Presidency of the State Security the legal authority to arrest and detain people, monitor their communications and financial data, and search their properties and seize assets without judicial oversight. The Presidency of State Security can ban a suspect from travel without notifying them, and the law gives police officers and military personnel authorization to use force "according to regulations laid down in the law." No additional regulations on use of force are mentioned in the text.

"Mohammad bin Salman claims to be a reformist but locking away peaceful critics as terrorists is the same old despotism we've often seen from Saudi rulers," Whitson said.

Arabic Version


التعليقات المنشورة لا تعبر بالضرورة عن رأي الموقع

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