By Arab News
By Dr. Khalid Alnowaiser
Now, once again, the Anti-Terrorism Law issue has emerged to surprise us all, being of serious concern.
If enacted, the law will, among other things, permit suspects accused of “endangering…national unity” and “harming the reputation of the state” to be held incommunicado indefinitely without access to legal counsel as terrorism suspects if determined to be so by a special court.
Before outlining the reasons for opposing such a law, it is important to clarify one issue. With all due respect to our government, I firmly believe that Saudis need to be truly engaged in discussing the decision-making process and legislation that affect their lives. Otherwise, such laws will be viewed as unproductive procedures that do not serve the country or its strategic interests, including the Kingdom’s security and stability.
In my opinion, the proposed Anti-Terrorism Law and any similar legislation intended to combat terrorism should not be implemented for the following reasons:
First: From the draft that was published but not yet finalized, one can sense there is a tendency to restrict personal freedom that may promote the violation of basic human rights. I understand there is an attempt to revise the draft to make it less severe, but that’s not the issue. In reality, Saudi Arabia doesn’t really need such an anti-terrorism law at all, especially when it can be interpreted to restrict legitimate freedom of expression. Indeed, the Kingdom has witnessed very challenging times over the last eight years when terrorism has become a major danger to the country’s security. Without an anti-terrorism law, however, our government has succeeded (particularly due to the wonderful efforts of the Ministry of Interior) in rooting out terrorists with the full support of Saudi citizens.
There is no question that the Kingdom is threatened by other countries, in seeking to create social and political unrest in our country. Such efforts to endanger or destabilize the country must be strongly and decisively defeated by the Saudi government. We should not forget, however, that recent developments in the region clearly show that Saudi citizens are united and supportive of their government, which is the best defense in protecting the country from outside disruptive influences. Thus, one must ask why such a law is needed at all and what justification there is for it when Saudi Arabia has already succeeded in combating terrorism.
Second: If we study this law carefully, no matter the amendments that may be suggested, we can see that it represents the worst public relations campaign for Saudi Arabia before the entire world. It implies that the Kingdom is preparing its people for difficult times ahead. As presently drafted, or even as it may be amended, the proposed Anti-Terrorism Law runs the risk of suggesting that Saudi Arabia is an arbitrary and oppressive nation curtailing the basic human rights of its citizens. This is surely not what the government intends, but the proposed law is completely the wrong signal to send to the global community. As Saudis well know, the Kingdom has always been a haven that provides security and stability to its people, the region, and the whole world.
Third: Assuming that this law is passed, even if amended, and implemented, does this mean that when laws are proposed that may interfere with the rights of the people, deprive them of their freedoms and violate basic human rights, they will be sanctioned? It is undisputed that any law that does not respect human rights and human dignity is doomed to fail. We all know that the starting point for the issuance of any law should be to establish justice and protect human dignity and human rights; otherwise it will most certainly backfire. It is feared that other laws detrimental to human rights will follow the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Law, simply because they promote the country’s security regardless of the chilling effect the laws will have on personal freedom.
Thus, I respectfully ask the Saudi government to reconsider the matter and prevent the Anti-Terrorism Law from being enacted so as to protect the dignity and rights of the Saudi people and the reputation of the nation. The Kingdom does not need such a law. Instead, it really needs comprehensive reform in all aspects, particularly politically. This should take place as soon as possible and before we are confronted by future challenges and crises. Saudis are an enlightened and reasonable people whom our leaders can trust without passing legislation that can be used to restrict our freedoms. I am confident that our government will make the right choice for Saudis and prevent the anti-terrorism measure from becoming law.
— Dr. Khalid Alnowaiser is a Saudi attorney with offices in Riyadh and Jeddah. He can be reached at: [email protected] and/or Twitter (kalnowaiser)