Pictured: Kind Abdullah, Saudi Arabia
Human rights activists were shocked this week when Saudi Arabia put into effect a new terrorism law that enables the government to prosecute “anyone who demands reform, exposes corruption or otherwise engages in dissent.” Activists also say that merely “exposing corruption” could be seen as a violation of the anti-terrorism law.
The new law gives “broad powers,” which grant police the ability to raid homes and track internet activity on any suspicion of anti-government activity. Security services are able to investigate these “suspicious cases” and need no prior approval from a judge or superior to do so. Additionally, suspects can also be held incommunicado for 90 days and it is not necessary for lawyers to be present during the initial interrogation. A UN special reporter on torture stated: “Torture is most frequently practiced during incommunicado detention.”
The new law defines terrorism as any criminal act that “destabilizes the society’s security or the state’s stability or exposes its national unity to harm.” Some terrorist acts include “disabling the ruling system” or “offending the nation’s reputation.”
Activists say the new law is a new attempt to keep the Al Saud family in control of the country. Saudi Arabia is one of the last countries in the world to have an absolute monarchy. Every decision is made by King Abdullah, with no parliament to give input. The government has felt pressure from the country since the Arab Spring protests and there have been greater demands for democratic reform int he country.
In 2011, the government attempted to implement a similar law, but it was sidelined after human rights groups leaked a copy of the document online. Since the incident, many activists have been detained and several rights groups have been shut down. The Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights was one of the groups shut down and one of the founders, Al-Shubaily, is facing trial:
“‘If I call for the release of someone from jail for being held longer than their sentence, I can be tried for ‘asking the state to take action,’” Mr Al-Shubaily said. “When I call for a constitutional monarchy, I can now be charged with terrorism. They characterise you as a terrorist because you ask the kingdom to do something it does not want to do.’”
Not only may this new law affect those within Saudi Arabia, but also international journalists and organizations abroad which “scrutinize Saudi Arabia’s human rights record could be targeted for prosecution in the kingdom,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
Is this a circumstance in which the ICC should or might intervene? (Although Saudi Arabia is not currently signed onto the Rome Statute). The new law cannot be equated with mass murder cases, but is it worth an ICC investigation? Activists have expressed worry about the new law, especially due to its broad definitions, enabling the government to prosecute virtually anyone under it.