Draft Saudi security law faces criticism

Amnesty International says peaceful acts of dissent could be prosecuted as "terrorist crime" under proposed law.

    Tighter security measures have been installed following unrest and protests in the Eastern Province [Reuters]

    A proposed internal-security law in Saudi Arabia will reinforce "draconian and abusive" measures in Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International, the UK-based rights organisation.

    The group, which describes the state of freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia as dire, said in a report released on Thursday that the draft anti-terrorism law indicated that peaceful acts of dissent could in the future be prosecuted as a "terrorist crime".

    A copy of the draw law was leaked to the rights group earlier this year,

    "The formulation of a new anti-terror law is another apparent sign of the authorities' to use the law to silence
    dissent," Amnesty International said.

    It said the law would allow the kingdom to detain security suspects indefinitely and without trial.

    'Vague and broad'

    Amnesty International criticised what it called Saud Arabia's "vague and broad" definitions of terrorism, ranging from "destabilising society" to "harming the reputation of the state".

    "This opaqueness could be exploited to charge peaceful meetings of a group of people who make political demands or even engage in academic discussions with a 'terrorist crime' under this draft law,"  the report said.

    Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy with no written criminal code; its law is instead based on an uncodified form of Islamic sharia law, as interpreted by the country's judges.

    Calling on Saudi authorities to immediately release all prisoners of conscience, Amnesty International denounced as "extremely weak" the kingdom's institutional framework for protection of human rights.

    Detainees are sometimes held for months without trial or access to a lawyer, the group said, with confessions extracted
    under duress: from beatings with sticks to punching, suspension from the ceiling by the ankles or wrists and sleep deprivation.

    It said that when cases were brought to trial, the proceedings were often held behind closed doors and failed to
    meet international standards of fairness and transparency.

    Protest urged

    Earlier this year, an unknown group of Saudi activists urged people to take to the streets to demand the release of political prisoners, a fully independent judiciary, a minimum wage and greater freedom of expression.

    That was met with a statement from the country's interior ministry, reminding citizens demonstrations were banned and it
    would take "all necessary measures" against those seeking to "disrupt order".

    Only one person, a 40-year-old teacher Khaled al-Johani, defied the warning and was quickly arrested. He is still in
    detention, according to Amnesty International.

    The group also mentioned protests by Saudi Arabia's Shia Muslim minority in the oil-rich Eastern Province, but said it
    did not have enough details to conclude whether security forces had used excessive force in response to what appeared to be violent acts on the part of some demonstrators.

    Protests held last month resulted in the death of at least one person and several others were injured after police used live rounds to break up the demonstrations.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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