JadaLiyya, By Saleh Al Amer, April 1
In July 2011, Amnesty International published a leaked copy of the draft Saudi Arabian Penal Law for Terrorism Crimes and Financing of Terrorism. This Anti-Terror Law, which grants the Ministry of Interior unprecedented levels of authority and discretion in intelligence gathering, policing, and detention, has already been reviewed by the Security Committee of the Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shura) and the Committee of Experts in the Ministers’ Council, and awaits final approval for its enactment. Given the recent appointment of the Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdulaziz as the new Crown Prince, it seems likely that the law will soon be adopted.
Widespread criticism of the law has been voiced internally, by local activists, and internationally, with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch leading the way. Unlike the US Patriot Act and the Terrorism Act 2006 of Great Britain, both of which allowed for tremendous expansions of state power, the proposed Anti-Terror Law seems designed to legitimize already-existing extra-judicial practices of the Saudi state by cloaking them in the rule of law. With broad support for legal reforms, continued protests and civil disobedience, and public debate growing over the injustices suffered by Saudi prisoners of conscience, the Anti-Terror Law seeks to forestall any movement towards enhanced legal protections.
The regime response was limited to a letter written by the Saudi Ambassador in London, emphasizing that the Anti-Terror Law provides both for the need to deal with terrorism within a legal framework, and for the protection of the ”œlegitimate rights of suspects.” What has been neglected in this exchange between officials and critics is that the unapplied 2002 Law of Criminal Procedure (LCP) already exists to ensure a speedy, fair, and inexpensive trial, while guaranteeing basic rights. While the LCP is not without its flaws, unlike the proposed Anti-Terrorism Law, it limits the discretionary power of the Ministry of Interior and provides a foundation for a broader set of legal reforms.
Security Council’s Resolution 1373 called on all nations to bring persons accused of terrorist crimes to justice. This proposed anti-terror law does anything but that. Rather, it is a response to the continued political unrest of the Arab uprisings, increasing demands for legal reform, and the issue of political prisoners. Instead of strengthening civil liberties to stabilize the country and face criticisms, this proposed law does the opposite. It strips citizens of some of their basic civil liberties: their freedom of speech and freedom of assembly; and it legitimizes enhanced policing and detention power. Using the threat of terrorism as an opportunity to curtail citizens’ freedom and what limited political and legal rights they have can only breed more violence and terrorism. Rather than enacting this dangerous and repressive law, we should consider implementing the already-approved Law of Criminal Procedure, which, with time, could provide the foundations for a just rule of law.