RIYADH, Saudi Arabia— Saudi Arabia has introduced new anti-terrorism legislation that has many human rights activists concerned the law will be used to quell peaceful dissent against the monarchy. It turns out that human rights groups inside Saudi Arabia have already suffered under the draconian law.
The Law for the Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing took effect on February 1, 2014. Critics point to the extremely vague definitions of terrorism inside the law as a potential threat to civil liberties and dissent inside Saudi Arabia.
In 2011, the draft of the law leaked and was met with extreme criticism. The monarchy saw the discord flowing out of the Middle East due to the Arab Spring around the same time and sought to prevent any attempt by the public to properly protest against their government.
Specifically, the law labels behavior that disturbs the public order of the state, destabilizes the security of society or the stability of the state, endangers the state’s national unity and harms the reputation of the state or its standing as terrorist acts. The vagueness inherent in the law’s verbiage is apparent and could easily be applied to any individual peacefully protesting against the monarchy. The law also grants sweeping powers to the Ministry of Interior. This includes the ability to conduct searches, seizures and arrests with absolutely zero judicial oversight.
The law also carries stiff sentences for those found guilty of “terrorism.” For instance, one can be held for up to 90 days and given only one phone call to one’s family. Also, those who are charged with terrorism can be detained for six months with absolutely no trial. There is also the possibility of indefinite detention carried out by the secretive Specialized Criminal Court.
The harsh law is clearly an attempt by one of the world’s last true monarchies to galvanize their power and ensure their survival.
The government has issued statements in support of the law and has downplayed any possible abuses that could come about through its implementation. The Saudi Minister of Culture and Information, Abdel Aziz Khoja, issued a statement saying the new law balances civil liberties and terrorism prevention according to Islamic law.
Saudi citizens have already suffered under the new legislation. The Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights was shut down and eight of its members were imprisoned. Some activists are concerned many women who dare to drive a car will suffer under the harsh consequences of the law.
Clearly, the Saudi monarchy is extremely wary of political dissent within its borders due to the rise in protests against various governments across the Middle East. As more and more Saudi citizens become connected through social media platforms the call for change will become inevitable. In today’s connected age, the Saudi monarchy cannot pretend to rule as if it exists in the Middle Ages for much longer.
– Zack Lindberg