There’s one thing more concerning than a government with a history of using security issues to justify human rights abuses passing a new anti-terrorism measure. What would be more scary is if that government passed new counter-terrorism legislation and then kept the details of the new law from the public.
That’s the situation in Saudi Arabia, where what we know of a draft anti-terrorism law comes only from a document leaked to Amnesty International. Under the draft law, the definition of terrorist crimes is so broad that legitimate dissent would, in effect, be criminalized. Authorities would be allowed to prosecute peaceful dissent with harsh penalties such as “terrorist crime.”
The draft law may become a tragic reality for the people of Saudi Arabia very soon. We believe that King Abdullah, as head of state, is now the only authority who has the power to stop this assault on human rights.
What is in the Saudi record that concerns Amnesty so much? Ask Dr. Ahmad ‘Abbas Ahmad Muhammad. An Egyptian pharmacist, Muhammad has been held incommunicado, without charge, since May 2003, when he was arrested with hundreds of others in Riyadh. He is one of thousands of people detained in Saudi Arabia since September 2001; many have been held for years without access to lawyers or the courts. Most of them have been held under state security law that gives legal pretense to the Saudi’s ability to grab anyone off the streets, taken them into custody and hide any legal proceedings from public view.
Amnesty’s new report on the misuse of security measures in Saudi Arabia lays out the following indictments: Incommunicado detention. Unfair trials. Torture. Harassment of political critics.
- Trials of political or security detainees in Saudi Arabia are grossly unfair. Court hearings are often held in secret and defendants are rarely allowed to have a lawyer throughout the proceedings. Hundreds still face unfair trials and possible death sentences.
- Saudi Arabia has been “getting away with it” over recent years under the auspices of fighting terrorism by maintaining a web of secrecy around those caught in its anti-terrorism operations. In addition governments have failed to ask the Saudi Arabian government the right questions regarding their tactics.
- Political critics and common citizens alike have been detained under anti-terrorism policies for the peaceful expression of their views.
At a time when the people throughout the Middle East and North Africa have bravely stood up demanding their rights and an end to security-based repression, Saudi Arabia is heading in the opposite direction.
We can help Saudi activists stop the move backwards. We must demand that King Abdullah stop the draft law as it currently stands or radically amend it to bring it in line with international human rights law.
Lara Zuzan Golesorkhi, Amnesty International USA Saudi Arabia country specialist, contributed to this post.