Saudi Arabia: Counterterrorism Apparatus Targets Rights Activists

(Beirut) – A United Nations official who recently visited Saudi Arabia has criticized the country’s use of its terrorism tribunal and counterterrorism law to unjustly prosecute human rights defenders, writers, and peaceful critics, Human Rights Watch said today.  Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, issued his statement on May 4, 2017, following a visit to the country from April 30 to May 4.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 21, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

“King Salman should immediately pardon and release anyone imprisoned merely for peacefully expressing their opinions,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “In combating terrorism within its borders, Saudi Arabia should engage with rights activists and offer them a seat at the table rather than a bed in a prison cell.”

Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism law and a series of related decrees are used to criminalize a wide range of acts as “terrorism” including intending to “insult the reputation of the state,” “harm public order,” or “calling for atheist thought.”

Emmerson said that Saudi authorities denied him access to people jailed under the counterterrorism law and expressed concern regarding Saudi Arabia’s “unacceptably broad definition of terrorism.” He also called on Saudi Arabia to set up “a new independent mechanism to re-examine all cases where people had been jailed for exercising their rights of free speech, thought, conscience, religion or opinion, and of peaceful assembly or association.”

In his statement, Emmerson urged Saudi officials to limit the legal definition of terrorism to “acts or threats of violence that are committed for religious, political or ideological motives,…

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