New laws in Saudi Arabia declare that atheists are terrorists

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is cracking down on dissent by issuing a list of whom the government calls terrorists

Topics: ideas, Atheism, Saudi Arabia, laws, International, ,

A rash of new laws issued in Saudi Arabia aim to blot out all political dissent — and in one case defines atheists as terrorists. The series of laws began in January of 2014. At the end of last month, Human Rights Watch issued a report explaining that “a series of related royal decrees create a legal framework that appears to criminalize virtually all dissident thought or expression as terrorism.”

According to the Times of India, some of the laws were issued to deal with the number of Saudis who traveled to Syria to partake in the civil war, and returned with new ideas of overthrowing the monarchy. In February King Abdullah issued Royal Decree 44, which criminalizes ”participating in hostilities outside the kingdom.” The penalty for such activity is three to 20 years in prison.

Last month, yet another regulation was released by the Saudi interior ministry. This one specifically defines who is and is not a terrorist organization in the eyes of the law. Human Rights Watch has the entire list of who is defined as a “terrorist.” The articles of the law have been reprinted below:

  • Article 1: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”
  • Article 2: “Anyone who throws away their loyalty to the country’s rulers, or who swears allegiance to any party, organization, current [of thought], group, or individual inside or outside [the kingdom].”
  • Article 4: “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.”
  • Article 6: “Contact or correspondence with any groups, currents [of thought], or individuals hostile to the kingdom.”
  • Article 8: “Seeking to shake the social fabric or national cohesion, or calling, participating, promoting, or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings, or group statements in any form, or anyone who harms the unity or stability of the kingdom by any means.”
  • Article 9: “Attending conferences, seminars, or meetings inside or outside [the kingdom] targeting the security of society, or sowing discord in society.”
  • Article 11: “Inciting or making countries, committees, or international organizations antagonistic to the kingdom.”


According to Human Rights Watch’s Joe Stork, who is the organization’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, “These regulations dash any hope that King Abdullah intends to open a space for peaceful dissent or independent groups.”

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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