Last updated: 2 August, 2011

Rights group urges Saudi monarch to scrap terror law

Human Rights Watch urged the Saudi monarch on Tuesday to rescind a counterterrorism bill which it says will infringe on basic rights and lump peaceful opposition together with violence.

“Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah should withdraw a draft counterterrorism law from consideration by the cabinet because it would facilitate serious human rights violations,” the Washington-based group said in a statement.

In a letter to the king, HRW said the government should consult with international human rights experts to draft a bill that “would protect rather than infringe on basic rights.”

“The draft counterterrorism law is trying to enshrine as legal the Saudi Interior Ministry’s unlawful practices,” charged Christoph Wilcke, senior HRW’s Middle East researcher.

“It lumps peaceful political opposition together with violent acts and ensures that the accused won’t get a fair trial,” he added in the statement.

HRW said it received a copy of the draft — the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing — on July 22 from a source who claimed that the bill was in its final stages of discussion.

“The Saudi draft counterterrorism law is draconian in spirit and letter, and there is every reason to fear that the authorities will easily and eagerly use it against peaceful dissidents,” Wilcke said.

HRW warned that the bill “contains an extremely vague and overbroad definition of terrorism, places unwarranted restrictions on the rights to free expression and assembly, grants excessive police powers without judicial oversight, and infringes on the rights to due process and a fair trial.”

It charged that several articles “unduly restrict the rights to expression and assembly,” and said that “describing the king, or the crown prince, as an unbeliever” can be considered an act of terror.

The law would add 23 crimes carrying the death penalty, including acts that involve only threats of violence, HRW said.

London-based rights group Amnesty International last month said the bill threatens to strangle peaceful dissent.