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Amnesty's website blocked in Saudi after group leaked kingdom's draft law on arrests
CAIRO (AP) ' Amnesty International said Saudi authorities on Monday blocked the group's website inside the kingdom following criticism of a controversial new anti-terrorism draft law.
The London-based group said the bill, which was reviewed by a Saudi government committee in June and has yet to be passed, allows authorities to prosecute peaceful dissent as a terrorist crime.
Amnesty on Friday 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 security committee.
Hours after the website was blocked Monday, Amnesty moved the text of the bill to another Amnesty-administered website called "Protect The Human Blog", which could be accessed by residents in the kingdom.
"Although the Saudi authorities have blocked our main international site, they haven't yet blocked any Amnesty U.K. site, as far as we know. So we're hosting the Arabic version of the release for all to see," the group said in an online statement.
Although Saudi Arabia has not seen the kind of unrest that has gripped the Middle East, it has taken steps to prevent pro-democracy protests from spilling over into the oil-rich kingdom.
Amnesty 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.
On Saturday, Saudi Arabia released a statement dismissing Amnesty's criticism and saying the bill is meant to assist security forces in tackling terrorist activity.
The government 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.