Friday, April 4, 2014

Atheism is terrorism in Saudi Arabia

King Abdullah
The news is not so new, but still too important to be missed: Saudi Arabia in January introduced a series of new ''anti-terrorism'' laws,  which, among other things, define atheists as terrorists, according to a recent report from Human Rights Watch. The new law and a series of related royal decrees created a legal framework that appears to criminalize virtually all dissident thought or expression as terrorism. The provisions in the measures threaten to close down altogether Saudi Arabia’s already extremely restricted space for free expression. 
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].”
  • Article 4: “Anyone who aids [“terrorist”] organizations, groups, currents [of thought], associations, or parties, or demonstrates affiliation with them, or sympathy with them, or promotes them, or holds meetings under their umbrella, either inside or outside the kingdom; this includes participation in audio, written, or visual media; social media in its audio, written, or visual forms; Internet websites; or circulating their contents in any form, or using slogans of these groups and currents [of thought], or any symbols which point to support or sympathy with them.”
  • Article 6: “Contact or correspondence with any groups, currents [of thought], or individuals hostile to the kingdom.”
  • 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.”
The new laws are, of course, limiting the already extremely poor freedom of expression in the kingdom even more. But as Brian Whitaker remarks on his blog, they are in fact perfectly in line with the Saudi Constitution which among other things stipulates that Islam is the state religion, that citizens have to pay allegiance to the king in accordance with the Holy Qur'an, that the government derives its power from the Qur'an and that the state protects Islam and implements the sharia.   

Human Rights Watch draws attention to the fact that on 9 March the human rights activists Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammed al-Qahtani completed their first year in prison (of their 11 and 10-year sentences)  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. Other members of their organization, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), are serving sentences for convictions on similar charges, including Mohammed al-Bajadi, Omar al-Saeed, and Abd al-Kareem al-Khodr. A jailed member, Fowzan al-Harbi, is on trial before the Riyadh Criminal Court on charges that include “participating in calling for and inciting breaking allegiance with the ruler,” “explicit libel of the integrity and religiosity of the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars,” “participating in setting up an unlicensed organization” – namely, ACPRA – “publishing details of his investigation,” and “describing the ruling Saudi regime – unjustly – as a police state.”

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