Saudi Arabia’s new terrorism laws officially say that atheists and others who commit thought crimes are the same as terrorists.
“The interior ministry regulations [introduced over the last three months] include … sweeping provisions that authorities can use to criminalize virtually any expression or association critical of the government and its understanding of Islam,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Included under the terrorism provisions is the ban on “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”
In Saudi Arabia, even if you’re not an atheist or a dissident, severe punishment can still be inflicted on you just for saying what’s on your mind. Even giving support to freethinkers is considered a crime in the kingdom.
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Article 4 of the kingdom’s Basic Law states: “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.”
In a blog post, Brian Whitaker at al-bab.com writes: “Since the entire system of government is based on Wahhabi interpretations of Islam, non-believers are assumed to be enemies of the Saudi state.”
Under the new decree by King Abdullah, anyone who participates in conflicts outside Saudi Arabia will spend up to 20 years in prison.
“Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but these recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW. “These regulations dash any hope that King Abdullah intends to open a space for peaceful dissent or independent groups.”
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Dissent continues to be a big concern in the kingdom because, as The Independent notes: “The new laws have largely been brought in to combat the growing number of Saudis travelling to take part in the civil war in Syria, who have previously returned with newfound training and ideas about overthrowing the monarchy.”