The Arab Spring has been greeted in Saudi Arabia by "a new wave of repression" that saw authorities arresting and imprisoning peaceful protesters demanding political reforms. Now, the Saudi crackdown may be reinforced by a draft anti-terror law that would effectively criminalize dissent as a "terrorist crime."
In a new 61-page report, "Saudi Arabia: Repression in the Name of Security," Amnesty International (AI) said authorities have "used security concerns to justify the arrest of hundreds of people who have been imprisoned after unfair trials." The draft anti-terror law would further strip away rights from those accused of such offenses, Amnesty said.
"Peaceful protesters and supporters of political reform in the country have been targeted for arrest in an attempt to stamp out the kinds of call for reform that have echoed across the region," said Philip Luther of AI.
"While the arguments used to justify this wide-ranging crackdown may be different, the abusive practices being employed by the Saudi Arabian government are worryingly similar to those which they have long used against people accused of terrorist offenses," he said.
AI said that the government "continues to detain thousands of people, many of them without charge or trial, on terrorism-related grounds. Torture and other ill-treatment in detention remain rife."
In April 2011, an Interior Ministry spokesperson said that around 5,000 people connected to the "deviant group," meaning al-Qa'ida, had been questioned and referred for trials, Amnesty said.
Meanwhile, Saudi troops continue to serve in Bahrain on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), helping the rulers of the tiny oil-rich monarchy to put an end to many months of peaceful demonstrations seeking reform.
In a statement following AI's release of the draft law, the Saudi government said it "absolutely has a responsibility to protect the public from violent attacks, but that has to be done within the boundaries of international law." It said the new draft law is designed "to assist Saudi Security forces in tackling terrorist activity."