Based on numerous human rights reports, it has been confirmed that the antiterrorism laws that were passed in Saudi Arabia in February 2014 have been used against political opposition leaders and human rights defenders, according to a legal evaluation published by Professor Michael A. Newtonen titled ‘The Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing’. This report is based on a joint cooperation effort between a number of Saudi organizations including the Civil Office of the Ombudsman (DEWANY), ALQST Advocating for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) and the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR). Newton, who is a professor of the Practice of Law at Vanderbilt University Law School, said that the law for the Crime of Terrorism has limited full respect of important human rights principles in many regards.
The report high lights that human rights principles should not be considered as an obstacle to the state’s success in fighting terrorism, as the resolution and an annexed Plan of Action of the United Nations General Assembly, states that all member States have agreed to a common strategic approach to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of the law as the fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism. Saudi antiterrorism laws, according to Professor Newton’s analysis, afford extensive powers to the courts to suppress anyone who engages in pro-government reform, a direct violation of their right to freedom of expression and conscience.
The report also discusses, with concern, the additional powers granted the judiciary. Article 3 refers to persons who commit or seek to commit acts aimed to harm public interest or the economy and national threat to the kingdom, a provision that is overly vague. He also emphasized that such provisions do not exist in the national or international treaties, and pointed out that while the Kingdom has the right to exercise its governmental obligations in a domestic manner, it is also obliged to ensure consistency and confirmity with human rights laws.
Professor Newton believes that the effectiveness of international cooperation, as international treaties state, requires respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Furthermore, the Terrorist Bombings Convention and other International Conventions that aim to combat terrorism and its Financing (both of which have been ratified by Saudi Arabia), emphasized that the state cannot use the laws as a pretext for the persecution of any person on the basis of race, religion, nationality or political opinion.
The report describes the Saudi primary system to be deficient, failing to provide equal protection for its citizens, regardless of their religious and political opinion and lacks conformity to the relevant international standards. Moreover, the report discusses the vague legal terms, such as that of Article 1,which conflicts with the relative privacy found in the conventions that are ratified by Saudi Arabia. Thus allowing the system to be misuse das a method to deprive individuals of their right to freedom of expression and religion.
Additional flaws in Article 1 are the use ofterms such as national threat and disturbing public order, which are deeply ambiguous. Professor Newton believes that “stopping any action that could damage the country’s reputation” is wholly unpractical since it allows the state to take action based on a self-evaluation motive.
Moreover, the Saudi Penal Law Code does not require the accused to cause death or serious bodily injury or to cause extremely widespread destruction, and this wide interpretation allows the state to suppress protected human rights. With regards to fair trial standards, the report mentions the use of the term specialized courts by the Kingdom, which function differently from ordinary courts, and this is may be a key reason for such courts lack of fair trial standards.
The report also clarifies that Article 5 of the Saudi Penal Law Code allows the Saudi authorities to violate a number of charters and laws, including the Arab Charter, which required the Kingdom to prohibit arbitrary detention. Furthermore, Article 5 allows the authorities to arrest suspects for up to a year without permission or a warrant of arrest from the judicial authority. Likewise, Article 6 allows the detention of the defendant for a period of 90 days without contacting anyone, which is also in violation of the Arab Charter. This also violates the United Nations Convention against Torture, since incommunicado detention are linked to abusive interrogation techniques.
In article 10 of the Penal Law Code, prevents the defendant from the presence of a legal representative during stages of the investigation, and Article 12 prohibits the lawyer and defendant from cross questioning experts or witnesses and this represents a violation of the Arab Charter. With regards to Articles 13, 14 and15, Professor Newton demands the implementation of these articles in a manner that would fully protect the rights of the defense to access information and experts and to enable their defence, and he commented that giving this right exclusively to the Ministry of Interior is in violation of all human rights standards.
The report demands urgent modifications to the Anti-Terrorism Law, as follows:
· Modification of vague legal terms with the use much clearer definition and criteria include, such as in Article 1, whereby only crimes that cause death or serious bodily injury or to cause destruction on a large-scale, which could lead to heavy economic loss should be considered.
· Modification of Article 5 and 6 in order to provide an immediate judicial review of all detention operations and to provide a channel for communication between the detainees and their lawyers and their families.
· Adjustments of Article 10 and 12 to provide the right to counsel at all stages of the prosecution and the ability to request witnesses’ investigation.
· To ensure that all searches and seizures’ processes are subjected to judicial review and implemented equally and precisely.