Neil Macfarquhar July 23, 2011
Saudi King Abdullah. Photo: Reuters
A PROPOSED counter-terrorism law that would give the interior ministry sweeping powers and mandate jail sentences for criticising the king would crush political dissent, say Saudi and international human rights advocates.
They say it would allow prisoners to be held without trial, and trials and appeals to be held secretly. It would also allow the interior ministry to tap phones or search houses without permission from the judiciary.
Saudi activists have long accused the judicial system and the interior ministry of a lack of respect for human rights, even when such rights exist legally. The new law, the activists said, would legalise those practices, removing all restraints.
''Every single thing we criticised them about in the past is going to be legitimate,'' Bassem Alim, the defence lawyer for a group of men imprisoned in 2007 on terrorism charges, said. The men were formally charged last August. Mr Alim said their real crime was taking rudimentary steps towards forming a political party.
''Ninety-nine per cent of the law has nothing to do with terrorism, it has to do with political dissent,'' he said.
The draft law is under consideration by the consultative council, a government-appointed board that rarely challenges the monarchy. Critics said the law's definitions of terrorist crimes are vague enough to encompass all manner of activity. It uses broad terms like ''harming the reputation of the state'', for example, according to a translation provided by Amnesty International.
It also mandates a 10-year jail sentence for anyone who declares the king or the crown prince an infidel, a favourite tactic extremist Muslim organisations use to undermine the monarchy. The law would apply the same punishment to anyone who questioned the integrity or honesty of the two men.
''They are not making clear why questioning the integrity of the king is a security matter,'' said Dina el-Mamoun, a Saudi specialist at Amnesty International.
Some activists view the law as an attempt by Prince Nayef, the long-time interior minister, to consolidate his power and that of his son, Prince Mohammed, who runs counterterrorism operations.
''There should be some guarantees for basic human rights,'' said Mohammad al-Qahtani, head of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association.
Activists said the laws were introduced to combat anti-government movements that are challenging Arab governments across the region.
The New York Times
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