Amnesty says website blocked after Saudi leak

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 26, 2011 10:08 AM
Amnesty says website blocked after Saudi leak

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Amnesty International said its website had been blocked in Saudi Arabia after the rights group published a leaked draft of an anti-terror law and accused the kingdom of planning to use the legislation to crush dissent.

Amnesty International published the draft law online on Friday, saying it would allow Saudi Arabia to detain suspects without charge for long periods and jail people for 10 years or more for criticizing the king or crown prince.

Saudi Arabia rejected the accusation, saying the law was designed to stop terrorists, not protesters.

Amnesty said several journalists and human rights activists in the kingdom reported they could not access www.amnesty.org on Monday.

"Instead of attacking those raising concerns and attempting to block debate, the Saudi Arabian government should amend the draft law to ensure that it does not muzzle dissent and deny basic rights," said Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart in a statement on Monday.

The site also appeared to be blocked on Tuesday.

Information Ministry spokesman Abdulrahman al-Hazza said he could not immediately comment.

Saudi Arabia regularly blocks websites that the conservative Muslim kingdom finds objectionable. In 2009, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Saudi Arabia had monitored and blocked 400,000 websites.

Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally and the world's leading oil exporter, has no political parties. Its parliament is an appointed body with limited powers.

The kingdom says it has thwarted attacks by al Qaeda, which launched a violent campaign there in 2003 that fizzled out in 2006. But Riyadh fears al Qaeda militants could use their base in neighboring Yemen to restart operations.

According to the published draft, the new law would consider "endangering... national unity" and "harming the reputation of the state" as "terror crimes" and would allow the government to hold suspects incommunicado for an infinite period, once it got the approval of a special court.

It would also give wide-ranging powers to the interior minister to take action to protect internal security, without requiring judicial authorization or oversight.

Activists say thousands of people are held in Saudi prisons without charge or access to lawyers, despite an existing law that limits detention without trial to six months. The draft law would largely formalize such practices, according to the draft.

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Andrew Heavens)