* Saudi Arabia says draft law to fight terrorism
* Says regional turmoil provides fertile ground for terror
* Amnesty International says law will be used to crackdown
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, July 24 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's
ambassador to Britain has denied charges by Amnesty
International that a planned anti-terrorism law will be used to
stifle dissent and prevent pro-democracy protests.
"Amnesty International's reference that this planned law
will be used against what it describes as opposition rather than
terrorists is wrong," said Nawaf bin Abdulaziz in a statement
carried on the official SPA news agency.
Amnesty International accused Saudi Arabia on Friday of
planning a crackdown on public dissent with new anti-terror
legislation that it said was a cover to stop further
pro-democracy protests in the absolute monarchy.
Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally and the world's leading oil
exporter, tolerates no dissent, has no political parties and its
parliament is an appointed body with limited powers.
The Draft Penal Law for Terrorism Crimes and Financing
Terrorism, published on Amnesty's website, would allow extended
detention without charge or trial and impose a minimum 10-year
jail sentence on anyone questioning the integrity of the king or
It would consider "endangering...national unity" and
"harming the reputation of the state or its position" as
terrorist crimes and allow suspects to be held incommunicado for
an indefinite period, if approved by a special court.
Saudi Arabia boasts of its success in thwarting attacks by
al Qaeda, which launched a violent campaign in the kingdom in
2003 that fizzled out in 2006. But Riyadh fears al Qaeda
militants could use their base in Yemen to restart operations.
The government also fears that Shi'ite Iran could stir up
dissent among minority Shi'ites to destabilise the kingdom, home
to Islam's holiest sites.
"There have been many terrorist actions before... which
resulted in the death of dozens of people and the spread of
terror," the ambassador's statement said.
"Today, the eradicating of these (terror) cells is largely
due to the efforts by the Saudi security forces. Despite that,
the regional turmoil has provided a fertile ground for new
threats," he added.
Activists say thousands of people are held in Saudi prisons
without charge or access to lawyers, despite a law that limits
detention without trial to six months. The draft law would
largely formalise such practices.
The draft published by Amnesty gives wide-ranging powers to
the Interior Minister to take action to protect internal
security, without requiring judicial authorisation or oversight.
(Reporting by Asma Alsharif)
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