New anti-terror law used to restrict activities of HRDs, academics and journalists
Despite public statements by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud on modernising Saudi Arabia, the authorities have cracked down on human rights defenders in recent months and introduced a new anti-terror law that will further target human rights defenders, academics, journalists and bloggers. According to Amnesty International, almost all human rights activists remain in detention in Saudi Arabia, and a spate of arrests and sentences against human rights defenders in recent months has demonstrated the Saudi authorities’ blatant disregard for the right to freedom of association.
A new counter-terrorism law, the Law on Combating Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing introduced on 1st November 2017, threatens to further restrict the activities of human rights defenders, according to Human Rights Watch, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and ALQST. The new law extends the provisions of the 2014 counter-terrorism law, which was severely criticised by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter Terrorism Ben Emmerson, following his visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch expressed concern over the new law, stating that:
“Instead of improving abusive legislation, Saudi authorities are doubling down with the ludicrous proposition that criticism of the crown prince is an act of terrorism”.
The new law lacks a precise definition of terrorism, and therefore, there are grave concerns that it will be used against human rights defenders, journalists and others to punish them for their peaceful activities. According to ADHRB and ALQST, under the provisions of the law, individuals who “misuse their status in any way either academic or social status or media influence to promote terrorism can face prison sentences of up to 15 years”. Furthermore, article three criminalises various non-violent actions, such as “changing the system of rule, obstructing the basic ruling system or provisions thereof, and inducing the State to do or abstain from doing any act”. Article 10 grants the State Security Presidency powers to impose travel bans without informing the subjects of such bans or the measures taken against them.
On 10th November 2017, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia sentenced online activist Naima Al-Matrood to six years in jail followed by a six-year travel ban after her sentence is completed. Al-Matrood was first arrested on 23rd February 2016, at a checkpoint between Al-Dammam and her town of Sihat, and was released two days later. On 13th April 2016, she was arrested for the second time when she was summoned by the Directorate of Public Investigation in Al-Dammam for questioning, and has been held in the prison of this Directorate.