New Saudi Counterterrorism Law Raises Alarm

Human rights activists across the globe continue to raise concerns about Saudi Arabia’s new counterterrorism law, which took effect on February 1st. Titled the ‘Law for the Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing,’ this new piece of legislation allows the kingdom to prosecute peaceful opposition activists as terrorists.

Previously, the law was published in its entirety for the first time in the government’s official newspaper, Um Al-Qura. It states that any act seen as “destabilizing the society’s security or the state’s stability or exposes its national unity to harm” could be tried as an act of terrorism under the law.

“Offending the nation’s reputation or its position” now also falls under the country’s legal definition of terrorism, preventing many human rights defenders to speak up for what they believe in.

Of the most controversial articles in the counterterrorism law is one that grants the Ministry of Interior broad powers to search and raid people’s homes with little to no judicial oversight. Another article states that terror suspects can be held without charge or trial for up to one year, without the ability to appeal the decision. Many are worried that Saudi women who violate the ban on female drivers could even be considered terrorist suspects under the new law.

This is not the first time that the Saudi Arabian authorities have sought to suppress peaceful political dissent. In 2011, a similar draft was shelved after various human rights groups leaked a copy online. Among these groups was the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights (HASEM), which was subsequently shut down.

Eight of its founding members were imprisoned and one is still awaiting trial. This new law confirms many people’s worst fears about one of the world’s last absolute monarchies.

That is that the counterterrorism law is aimed at keeping the kingdom’s ruling Al Saud family in control in the wake of a series of democratic reform protests, including the Arab Spring protests of 2011. 89-year-old King Abdullah is the present ruling monarch, essentially making the majority of the country’s decisions, as there is little written law and no parliament.

Within the past few years, Saudi Arabia has experienced waves of reform movements and political activism that seem to be shaking the nation. Activists have been detained, rights organizations have been shut down, and the Saudi authorities have been increasingly monitoring social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Abdelaziz al-Shubaily, the HASEM activist currently awaiting trial, says, “They characterize you as a terrorist because you ask the kingdom to do something it does not want to do.” Nations across the globe have experienced this same hostility between government and citizen, and as we well know, history tends to repeat itself. The world will be watching to see what Saudi Arabia does next.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: Amnesty International, Al-Akbhar
Photo: AJC