In this Wednesday, June 4, 2008 photo, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan seen at his palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
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Saudi Arabia put into effect a sweeping new counterterrorism law Sunday that human rights activists say allows the kingdom to prosecute as a terrorist anyone who demands reform, exposes corruption or otherwise engages in dissent.Human rights activists were alarmed by the law and said it is clearly aimed at keeping the kingdom's ruling Al Saud family firmly in control amid the demands for democratic reform that have grown louder since the Arab Spring protests that shook the region in 2011 and toppled longtime autocrats.Saudi activist Abdulaziz al-Shubaily described the law as a "catastrophe". In defense of the law, the Saudi minister of culture and information, Abdel Aziz Khoja, was quoted in December as saying that the legislation strikes a balance between prevention of crimes and protection of human rights according to Islamic law.There is little written law, and judges -- implementing the country's strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam -- have broad leeway to impose verdicts and sentences.An attempt to pass a similar counterterrorism law in 2011 was shelved after rights groups in Saudi Arabia and abroad leaked a copy online.
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