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Saudi terror law 'would strangle peaceful protest'

Amnesty International reveals leaked Saudi Arabian anti-terror law, says it seriously threatens freedom of expression, peaceful protest

AFP, Friday 22 Jul 2011

A proposed Saudi anti-terror law threatens to strangle peaceful dissent in the Muslim kingdom, Amnesty International said Friday, calling on King Abdullah 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, said Amnesty, 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 King Abdullah or Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, it said in a statement.

The London-based human rights watchdog warned the proposed anti-terror 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."

Saudi Arabia has beheaded 33 people so far this year, according to an AFP tally 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 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."

Saudi Arabia's prosecution said in April that more than 5,000 "terror" suspects were being tried or have already been sentenced in the kingdom, which battled a wave of Al-Qaeda attacks in 2003-2006.

A secretive Riyadh court specialised in "terror crimes" has been set up to try those suspected of links to the jihadist network.

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