All dissent is terrorism

Human Rights Watch reported on March 20 that Saudi Arabia has passed a new “terrorism” law that pretty much equates all forms of dissent with terrorism.

The new regulations come amid a campaign to silence independent activists and peaceful dissidents through intimidation, investigations, arrests, prosecutions, and imprisonment. On March 9, the prominent human rights activists Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammed al-Qahtani completed their first year in prison, serving 11 and 10-year sentences, respectively, for criticizing the government’s human rights abuses and for membership in an unlicensed political and civil rights organization.

Two other human rights activists, Waleed Abu al-Khair and Mikhlif al-Shammari, recently lost appeals and will probably begin their three-month and five-year respective sentences soon for criticizing Saudi authorities.

On January 31, Saudi authorities promulgated the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing (the “terrorism law”). The law has serious flaws, including vague and overly broad provisions that allow authorities to criminalize free expression, and the creation of excessive police powers without judicial oversight. The law cites violence as an essential element only in reference to attacks carried out against Saudis outside the kingdom or onboard Saudi transportation carriers. Inside the kingdom, “terrorism” can be non-violent – consisting of “any act” intended to, among other things, “insult the reputation of the state,” “harm public order,” or “shake the security of society,” which the law fails to clearly define.

That can mean anything and everything. Just define “public order” as whatever it is the authorities want to make immune to any criticism whatsoever, and the job is done.

The interior ministry regulations include other sweeping provisions that authorities can use to criminalize virtually any expression or association critical of the government and its understanding of Islam. These “terrorism” provisions include the following:

The interior ministry regulations include other sweeping provisions that authorities can use to criminalize virtually any expression or association critical of the government and its understanding of Islam. These “terrorism” provisions include the following:

  • Article 1: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”
  • Article 2: “Anyone who throws away their loyalty to the country’s rulers, or who swears allegiance to any party, organization, current [of thought], group, or individual inside or outside [the kingdom].”

They’re thorough.

  • Article 8: “Seeking to shake the social fabric or national cohesion, or calling, participating, promoting, or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings, or group statements in any form, or anyone who harms the unity or stability of the kingdom by any means.”
  • Article 9: “Attending conferences, seminars, or meetings inside or outside [the kingdom] targeting the security of society, or sowing discord in society.”
  • Article 11: “Inciting or making countries, committees, or international organizations antagonistic to the kingdom.”

These broad provisions contain language that prosecutors and judges are already using to prosecute and convict independent activists and peaceful dissidents, Human Rights Watch said.

Saudi Arabia is an “ally” of the US and the UK.

In the March 9 case, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, a Saudi appeals court upheld an eight-year sentence for a Saudi citizen for “his involvement in inciting [family members] of detainees in security cases to demonstrations and sit-ins through producing, storing, and sending tweets, video clips on YouTube, and social networking sites,” as well as “his sarcasm toward the ruler of the kingdom and its religious authorities.”

On March 10, the SPA reported the conviction of another man, with a 10-year prison sentence and a 100,000 riyal fine ($26,600), for “engaging in following, saving, and resending inciting tweets on the social networking site (Twitter) against the rulers, religious scholars, and government agencies and his connection to people who call themselves reformists…”

Another human rights activist, Fadhil al-Manasif, who played a leading role in documenting abuses against demonstrators in the Eastern Province in 2011, is on trial for “sowing discord,” “inciting public opinion against the state,” and “communicating with foreign news agencies to exaggerate news and harm the reputation of the kingdom.”

That’s our ally.





  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Others besides the Saudis also have problems with the meaning of words about political disagreement.

    Back in the ’80s, I clipped out and bulletin-boarded a headline (now lost, alas) from the local newspaper’s coverage of an unsuccessful coup in Kenya, which read, approximately:

    President orders army to hunt down dissidents

    That last word was, I concede, technically accurate. Still…

  2. Dunc says

    Saudi Arabia is an “ally” of the US and the UK.

    They are also one of the leading customers for the UK’s exporters of manacles, leg irons, and electro-shock batons. Business is business.

  3. jesse says

    “Ally” needn’t be in quotes. The US supplies the Saudi military with just about everything it needs to control the population.

    And I should point out that of the dictators menaced by the Arab Spring, only Assad and Qaddafi were on the enemies list. Every other one of them was supported lavishly by governments in Europe and the US. Heck, the counter-revolution in Egypt would have gone nowhere if the US stopped sending the military $1 billion a year. (Helping the Muslim Brotherhood and the military go after the Egyptian left was also no small factor).

    I might add that when the Algerian government allowed elections in the early 90s, the FIS (the local religious-conservative party) looked poised to win. Under the rubric of fighting Islamic terrorism (some themes never get old) the US and France said “no way can we allow people to vote for someone we don’t like” and support for the military governors of Algeria poured in. Well, the FIS was rapidly convinced that any words about democracy on the part of the government and the US et al were just lies. So what do you think happened? Another 70,000 people dead in a civil war that was perfectly avoidable.

    Christ, Osama bin Laden was the one calling for democratic reform in Saudi Arabia. You know what that tells me? Hint: if that guy is the one who people listen to about democracy, then you’d better rethink the message you are sending to people. It was Ben Franklin who said that a man is judged by the company he keeps, correct? Well, as western ostensible secularists our company isn’t looking so good.

  4. jesse says

    Yes the FIS had an Islamist wing, but there’s a reason they were able to get votes, and it was no more Islamist than the Muslim Brotherhood, and at the beginning was less so. There are a lot of degrees between someone like bin Laden and, for example, the AKP in Turkey.

    And had the FIS been forced to actually govern they might have been less radicalized. Remember they weren’t going in with 100 percent of the vote. They had to form coalitions with others. This doesn’t mean I like their political program, but I don’t like that of Republicans either. It doesn’t mean I assume they have 100 percent of the power and we need to send troops to Idaho to depose the governor. Look what happened to the MB in Egypt: they tried to impose their ideas on the government and faced protests that made it clear they’d used up what political capital they had. Even without the intervention of the military they’d have had problems. Speaking of which, the military counter-revolution in Egypt has done more damage to the cause of secular government than anything the MB would do. I hope you can see why.

    We’ll never know how Algeria might have turned out, since we as much as told every single Muslim — heck, everyone in the Global South — that democracy is simply not an acceptable outcome for the United States, ever.

  5. says

    The MB is very Islamist. With Islamists running the state, the rights of many people simply cease to exist.

    I’m not saying all Islamist parties should be repressed by the state. I am saying don’t understate the totalitarianism of Islamist parties.

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