Proposed law would mandate jail for critics of Saudi king

The New York Times reports:

A proposed Saudi counterterrorism law that would give the Interior Ministry sweeping powers and mandate jail sentences for criticizing the king would effectively squelch political dissent, human rights advocates said on Thursday.

The law would allow prisoners to be held without trial, and trials and appeals to be held secretly, Saudi and international rights advocates said. It would also grant the Interior Ministry broad powers including the ability to tap telephones or search houses without permission from the judiciary.

Saudi activists have long accused the judicial system and the Interior Ministry of a lack of respect for human rights, even when such rights exist legally. The new law, the activists said, would legalize those practices, removing all restraints.

“Every single thing we criticized them about in the past is going to be legitimate,” Bassem Alim, the defense lawyer for a group of men imprisoned in 2007 on terrorism charges, said by telephone. The men were formally charged only last August, and their real crime, Mr. Alim said, was taking rudimentary steps toward forming a political party.

“Ninety-nine percent of the law has nothing to do with terrorism, it has to do with political dissent,” he said.

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