Saudi Arabia has criminalized atheism as terrorism in a new law and a series of royal decrees turning “almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism,” according to Human Rights Watch.
The campaign, which the rights group says is intended to “silence peaceful activists,” creates a legal framework criminalizing “virtually all dissident thought or expression” as terrorism.
“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,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in reaction to the regulation.
“These regulations dash any hope that King Abdullah intends to open a space for peaceful dissent or independent groups,” he said.
The January 31 Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing, known as the “terrorism law,” stipulates that an act committed within Saudi Arabia does not have to be violent to be considered an act of terrorism. Instead, any act intended to “insult the reputation of the state,” “harm public order,” or “shake the security of society” can be considered a terrorist act.
The wording of the law is so vague that it does not clearly define the nature of a “terrorist act.”
Among organizations considered terrorist organizations in Saudi Arabia, one can find Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Jabhat al-Nusra, and Hezbollah – along with atheists who question “the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”
Anyone who aids, contacts, corresponds with or shows sympathy for “terrorist” organizations and associations – including, apparently, atheists – on social media, websites or any other platform is considered a terrorist.
Commenting on Article 6 of the decree, one activist told Human Rights Watch, “Just talking to you now is considered terrorism – I could be prosecuted as a terrorist for this conversation.”