Monday, July 25, 2011

Saudi Arabia's Draft Anti-Terrorism Law Revisited in Response to Arab Spring and Recent Events in KSA

Photo in AlRiyadh, accompanying the article, Majlis Al-Shura Emphasizes Importance of Preservation of Security in Saudi Arabia, which reproduces the following from the official Saudi Press Agency. Riyadh - SPA:
Majlis Al-Shura stressed today the importance of preserving the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and not paying any attention to misleading calls for the organization of demonstrations, sit-ins and marches, which are incompatible with the principles of the Islamic law through which the Saudi leadership and people have been governed in all their affairs.
The Majlis endorsed the position of Senior Scholars Council in the Kingdom, which stressed that the Islamic law prohibits demonstrations in this country, warned against deviant intellectual and partisan links, and called for advice and understanding.
The Speaker of Majlis Al-Shura Sheikh Dr. Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Ibrahim Al Al-Sheikh emphasized the necessity that every citizen should preserve the security and stability of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and adhere to the Saudi unique approach of the open-door policy and writing directly to the leadership or any official to achieve a demand or eliminate a grievance.
He noted that the statement of Senior Scholars Council stressed that the Kingdom has been based on the Holy Quran, Prophetic Sunnah, allegiance-pledge, commitment to the unity of people, obedience and advice.


In June 2011, Saudi Arabia revived discussion of passing an anti-terrorism law drafted 5 years ago. This has caused considerable concern among human rights groups nationally and internationally, and for those Saudis involved in activism including via social media and online. While the law targets terrorism and terrorists within the country, its reach is broad and the punishments harsh for words or activities considered to be against the Kingdom, and particularly against the integrity and place of the Saudi King and the Crown Prince, with little in the way of detainee rights.

Renewed discussion of passing the law at this point in time seems more connected to protests that have occurred in the KSA in the last few months, which have seem to derive their impetus or momentum from the Arab Spring events in other MENA countries. These include protests by the families of detainees in the Eastern Province, Shia demonstrations in protest of Saudi's intervention in Bahrain, and the ongoing women's campaign to drive. While critics see this as a pre-emptive strike to prevent democratic reform in the Kingdom, Saudi authorities deny that the law is anything but an anti-terrorism strategy.

Amnesty International issued an important news article on the topic on Friday, July 22, 2011, after receiving a draft smuggled out of the Kingdom by its volunteers. The Amnesty article, Proposed Saudi Arabian Anti-Terror Law Would Stifle Peaceful Protest, includes links to the full Arabic text of the draft law, and official discussion of it, as well as a photo of the smuggled copy and a link to their campaign to Stop Saudi Arabia's oppressive anti-terror law.

In response the Saudi Embassy in the UK issued an official statement:

0020 Saudi Embassy in London: Amnesty's Concerns about Saudi Law to Tackle Terrorism Are Baseless

London, Sha'ban 22, 1432, Jul 23, 2011, SPA - The embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the United Kingdom issued today a statement regarding the Amnesty attack on a draft Saudi Law to assist Saudi Security Forces in tackling terrorist activity.

The statement said: 'A draft law to assist Saudi Security forces in tackling terrorist activity and currently under discussion by the Majlis Al-Shura (The Consultative Council) in Saudi Arabia has been attacked by Amnesty International.

Without contacting the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia for clarity or comment, Amnesty (International) determined that this law could be used to suppress dissent within the Kingdom, and on this basis circulated its interpretation to journalists. Only after a journalist contacted the embassy did we find out about their accusations.

The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia would like to point out that Amnesty’s concerns about this law are baseless, mere supposition on their part, and completely without foundation.

However the Kingdom would also like to point out that it is determined to continue to tackle the threat of terrorism in Saudi Arabia. Since 1995, the Kingdom has been struggling with domestic terrorism, only recently eradicating Al-Qaeda cells that took root in the country. Before that time, a multitude of terrorist acts occurred, killing scores of people and sowing fear. Today, due to the efforts of the Saudi Security Services, those cells have largely been eradicated. However, regional unrest provides a breeding ground for new threats. The continued growth of Al-Qaeda presents us with a serious challenge, and policies that prevent this group from establishing an affiliated network in the Kingdom are necessary.
--MORE
14:53 LOCAL TIME 11:53 GMT

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Two recent articles copied below, the first from Al Jazeera, the second from Al Arabiya,  provide a good discussion of the law, Amnesty International's position, and the Saudi response.

The legislation would allow authorities to imprison for 10 years anybody who questions the integrity of the king [AFP]

Rights group criticises Saudi anti-terror law
Amnesty International says that proposed legislation threatens to strangle peaceful dissent in the Gulf kingdom.

Last Modified: 22 Jul 2011 11:11

A proposed Saudi anti-terrorism law threatens to strangle peaceful dissent in the kingdom, a leading human rights organisation says, calling on King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz to reconsider the changes.

Under the Draft Penal Law for Terrorism Crimes and Financing Terrorism, the authorities could detain people "potentially indefinitely" without charge or trial, Amnesty International said on Friday, adding it had obtained a leaked copy of the law.

The legislation would also give the authorities power to imprison for at least 10 years anybody who questions the integrity of the king or Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz, it said in a statement.

Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor of Middle East history at Qatar University, told Al Jazeera that this was not a new law.

"It was started about five or six years ago and there was a discussion about the law in general, more focused on the threats from al-Qaeda," he said.

"But this is now focused on current events within Saudi Arabia and is maybe coming to limit any kinds of movements to criticise the authorities."

Peaceful protests

Amnesty, which is based in London, warned the proposed anti-terrorism law "would strangle peaceful protest".

"This draft law poses a serious threat to freedom of expression in the kingdom in the name of preventing terrorism," Philip Luther, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, was quoted as saying.

"If passed, it would pave the way for even the smallest acts of peaceful dissent to be branded terrorism and risk massive human rights violations."

Amnesty said a Saudi government security committee had reviewed the draft law in June but that it was "unknown when or if it might be passed".

It warned the "definition of 'terrorist crimes' in the draft is so broad that it lends itself to wide interpretation and abuse, and would in effect criminalise legitimate dissent".

"Terrorist crimes would include such actions as 'endangering national unity', 'halting the basic law or some of its articles', or 'harming the reputation of the state or its position'," said Amnesty.

Under the draft law, which went against the Gulf state's international legal obligations including the UN Convention against Torture, violations would carry "harsh punishments," it added.

"The death penalty would be applied to cases of taking up arms against the state or for any 'terrorist crimes' that result in death."

Death penalty

Saudi Arabia has beheaded 33 people so far this year, according to the AFP news agency, based on official and human rights group reports.

Earlier this month, Amnesty called on Riyadh to stop applying the death penalty, saying there had been a significant rise in the number of executions in previous weeks.

Amnesty said on Friday that under the draft law, "terror suspects" could be taken into custody arbitrarily and be held "in incommunicado detention for up to 120 days, or for longer periods - potentially indefinitely".

"At a time when people throughout the Middle East and North Africa have been exercising their legitimate right to express dissent and call for change, Saudi Arabian authorities have been seeking to squash this right for its citizens," said Luther.

"King Abdullah must reconsider this law and ensure that his people's legitimate right to freedom of expression is not curtailed in the name of fighting terrorism."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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Saudis vote in municipal elections. (File Photo)

Saudi Arabia disputes Amnesty’s view of smuggled classified draft law on protests
Friday, 22 July 2011

By RAY MOSELEY
AL ARABIYA LONDON

Amnesty International has condemned a proposed Saudi Arabian law that it says could make legitimate protests as part of the Arab Spring a terrorist offense. But Saudi officials in London vigorously dispute Amnesty’s interpretation of the classified draft law that was smuggled out of the Kingdom

The human rights organization said the draft law also provides for extended detention without charge or trial and without access to a lawyer. A minimum prison sentence of 10 years is specified for questioning the integrity of the king or crown prince.

Frank Gardner, the BBC’s security correspondent and a specialist on the Arab world, said on BBC radio on Friday that he has spent the past week examining the draft law with Amnesty officials and discussing it with officials at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London.

He said Amnesty researchers smuggled the classified document out of the country and Saudi officials do not dispute its authenticity but dispute Amnesty’s interpretation of it.

Amnesty researcher Dinah Mahmoud told the BBC that Amnesty fears the draft law will criminalize legitimate dissent against the state. She said some Saudi citizens taking part in Arab Spring protests already have been arrested. “If this law passes, it makes it easier for the state to charge them with terrorist offenses,” she said.

Saudi officials declined to be interviewed for the BBC program, Mr. Gardner said.

He noted that Saudi Arabia, after a slow start, has successfully fought an eight-year battle against terrorists and has driven most of its hard-core terrorists into neighboring Yemen. Most Al Qaeda terrorist plots hatched there against the West have been the work of Saudi nationals, he said, and these are regarded by the US and Britain as some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists.

“They do have a serious problem,” he said. “But the fear of Amnesty International and other human rights organization is that the Saudi Arabian authorities could be using anti- terrorism as a cover for. . .stifling dissent in Saudi Arabia.”

Mr. Gardner is himself a victim of terrorism in Saudi Arabia. In June 2004 he was attacked by Al Qaeda sympathizers in a suburb of Riyadh, the capital, and shot six times, while a cameraman with him was killed. Mr. Gardner has since been paralyzed in both legs.

He said some members of the Majlis al Shura, an official advisory body with no legislative powers, are reported to have reservations about parts of the draft law. Amnesty is convinced it will become law but Saudi authorities say that is not necessarily true, he reported.

James Lynch of Amnesty said the draft law “seeks to entrench some of the most repressive practices” and provides that people can be held without trial for an indefinite time.

Philip Luther, Amnesty’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, called on King Abdullah to reconsider the law “and ensure that his people’s legitimate right to freedom of expression is not curtailed in the name of fighting terrorism.”

The draft law gives the minister of the Interior broad powers to act against any terrorist threat and provides for no judicial authorization or oversight of his actions, Amnesty said. It said the definition of “terrorist crimes” is so broad that it lends itself to abuse. Terrorist crimes are defined as “endangering...national unity,” “halting the basic law or some of its articles” or “harming the reputation of the state or its position.”

The draft provides the death penalty for taking up arms against the state or for any crimes that result in death. Amnesty opposes use of the death penalty worldwide.

Some provisions of the draft, Amnesty said, run counter to Saudi Arabia’s legal obligations under the United Nations Convention against Torture. Holding suspects incommunicado in detention facilities can amount to torture, it added, and there is no clear prohibition of torture in the draft.

Amnesty said a specialized court would have the power to detain suspects without charge or trial for up to a year, and to extend detentions indefinitely.

(Ray Moseley is a London-based former chief European correspondent of the Chicago Tribune and has worked extensively in the Middle East. He can be reached at rnmoseley@aol.com.)

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Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

Saudi Arabia Shura Council --AP

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Amnesty International is right!

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