(Beirut) – The Saudi government’s new terrorism law violates the right to due process and a fair trial, Human Rights Watch said today. The law’s serious flaws include vague, overly broad provisions that allow authorities to criminalize free expression and the creation of excessive police powers without judicial oversight.
The government’s official gazette, Um al-Qura, published the full text of the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing (the “terrorism law”) on January 31, 2014, indicating that the law would take effect on February 1.
“King Abdullah was once considered a cautious reformer but the new terrorism law could wipe out a decade of the most modest progress,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of loosening the reins on Saudi society, the king is empowering criminal justice authorities to arrest and try peaceful activists along with suspected terrorists.”
This terrorism law differs significantly from a 2011 draft, most notably by removing all sentencing guidelines, removing a blanket ban on participation in demonstrations, and removing provisions criminalizing as defamation statements calling the king or the state an unbeliever. Yet the law preserves a vague, overly broad definition of terrorism that would criminalize virtually any speech critical of the government or society, and grants the interior minister the legal authority to jail people or monitor their communications and financial data without judicial oversight.
The new law defines terrorism 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