CAIRO (AP) — Amnesty International’s website became inaccessible in Saudi Arabia on Monday, just three days after the rights group published a leaked copy of the kingdom’s controversial new anti-terrorism draft law.
The London-based rights group could not confirm that Saudi authorities had blocked its website, but repeated attempts by residents to access the site from inside the kingdom were not successful on Monday afternoon.
Saudi Arabia has not seen the kind of unrest that has gripped the Middle East but has taken steps to prevent pro-democracy protests from spilling over into the oil-rich kingdom.
Amnesty said the draft law, which was reviewed by a government committee in June but has yet to be passed, allows authorities to prosecute peaceful dissent as a terrorist crime.
On Friday, Amnesty posted on its website the full Arabic text of the anti-terrorism draft law along with an internal review of the law by a Saudi government security committee.
The group did not say how it obtained the draft bill, which labels offenses such as harming the reputation of the state and endangering national unity as terrorist crimes.
Such language is typically used to prosecute political opponents of the Saudi monarchy, which has minimal tolerance for dissent and bans political activity.
The law, if passed, would carry harsh punishments, including a minimum prison sentence of 10 years for challenging the integrity of the king, Amnesty said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia on Saturday released a statement dismissing Amnesty’s criticism of the draft law and saying the bill is meant to assist security forces in tackling terrorist activity.
The government statement called Amnesty’s concerns “baseless,” ”mere supposition” and “completely without foundation.”
“Regional unrest provides a breeding ground for new threats,” said the statement, adding that policies that prevent al-Qaida from taking root in the kingdom are necessary.
Saudi authorities are particularly wary of attempts by the country’s minority Shiite residents to emulate Bahrain’s protests. Revolts in Tunisia and Egypt inspired a handful of Shiite-led protests in eastern Saudi Arabia earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Riyadh sent troops to help the Sunni rulers in Bahrain quell the revolt by the nation’s Shiite majority, demanding a greater say in politics and more rights.
Associated Press writers Barbara Surk in Dubai and Abdullah Shihri in Riyadh contributed to this report.