Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] on Tuesday urged [press release] King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz [official profile] of Saudi Arabia to reject the country's recently-passed counterterrorism law. HRW alleged that the law's definition of terrorism is overly broad, and will impose unfair restrictions on free speech and unduly criminalize any speech critical of the Saudi Arabian government or society. HRW stated that the law abridges several fundamental rights: "Saudi Arabia's denial of the rights to participate in public affairs, and freedom of religion, peaceful assembly, association, and expression, as well as its systematic discrimination against women greatly exceed any notion of justifiable restrictions." The Council of Ministers [official website] passed the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing on December 16, and it now awaits approval by Abdullah to go into effect.
Over the past year, a number of individuals have been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for crimes of terrorism or sedition against the state. Earlier this month a court sentenced political activist [JURIST report] Omar al-Saeed to four years in prison and 300 lashes for urging Saudi Arabia to become a constitutional monarchy. In July a Saudi court sentenced the editor of a liberal website [JURIST report] to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for his role in founding an Internet forum that violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought. In June HRW and other advocacy groups urged the EU to condemn Saudi Arabia for convicting seven governmental critics [JURIST report] of inciting protests through Facebook. Also in June a rights activist was sentenced [JURIST report] to eight years in jail for sedition. Last March two human rights activists [JURIST report] were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for sedition, providing foreign media with inaccurate information, founding and operating an unlicensed human rights organization, and other criminal offenses.