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Saudi Arabia: New Terrorism Law in Effect

(Feb. 4, 2014) Saudi Arabia’s new counterterrorism law, which was passed by the Saudi Council of Ministers on December 16, 2013, and later signed by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, became effective on February 2, 2014. The law provides that any behavior can be characterized as terrorism if it undermines the state or society. It also authorizes security services to raid homes and track both telephone calls and online activities. Furthermore, the law permits suspects to be detained for six months, with a possible extension of another six months. The text appeared in the official gazette, Um Al-Qura, on January 31, 2014. (Bradley McAllister, Saudi Arabia King Ratifies Counterterrorism Law, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Feb. 2, 2014); Aya Batrawy, New Saudi Counterterrorism Law Alarms Activists, ABC NEWS (Feb. 2, 2014); Saudi Arabia Counter-Terrorism Law Goes into Effect, AL ARABIYA (Feb. 2, 2014).)

A Saudi Press release states that terrorism is defined as:

Any act carried out by an offender in furtherance of an individual or collective project, directly or indirectly, intended to disturb the public order of the state, or to shake the security of society, or the stability of the state, or to expose its national unity to danger, or to suspend the basic law of governance or some of its articles, or to insult the reputation of the state or its position, or to inflict damage upon one of its public utilities or its natural resources, or to attempt to force a governmental authority to carry out or prevent it from carrying out an action, or to threaten to carry out acts that lead to the named purposes or incite [these acts]. (McAllister, supra.)

The law has been controversial. While Abdel Aziz Khoia, the country’s Minister of Culture and Information, said that it balances crime prevention with protection of human rights under Islamic law, some human rights groups have disagreed. (Batrawy, supra.) Following the adoption of the law by the Council of Ministers, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the King not to sign it and called its definition of terrorism vague and too broad. Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director for HRW, said: “King Abdullah should be easing the restrictions on Saudis’ rights, not setting in stone terrible counterterrorism measures.” (Saudi Arabia: Terrorism Law Targets Peaceful Speech, Human Rights Watch website (Dec. 31, 2013).

The concern that the new law could be used to limit human rights is re-enforced by a number of recent cases in Saudi Arabia. In one December 2013 case, Omar al-Saeed, a political activist, was sentenced to four years of imprisonment and 300 lashes for advocating that the country become a constitutional monarchy. Half a year earlier, the editor of a website was given a seven-year sentence and 600 lashes in connection with his part in an Internet website considered to be violating Islamic values and promoting liberal ideas. (McAllister, supra.)