Saudi Arabia has instituted a series of new laws and regulations which liken atheism to terrorism, Human Rights Watch is reporting.

Anti-terrorism regulations issued by the Saudi interior ministry last month are being called “sweeping” by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which reported that one of the “terrorism” provisions is, “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

“Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism, including atheism,” HRW wrote on its website on Tuesday. “The laws are so sweeping, they can be used to criminalize virtually any expression critical of the government and its understanding of Islam.”

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz looks on during an extraordinary summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Mecca on August 14, 2012. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz looks on during an extraordinary summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Mecca on August 14, 2012. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

The new rules appear to be part of a larger effort to silence dissent within the kingdom and to discourage Saudis from joining Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria who aim to topple President Bashar Assad and institute sharia rule. The concern in Saudi Arabia is that when these rebels return home, they will be armed with new training and perhaps motivation to change the leadership in their homeland.

According to HRW, the new measures have all been issued since the beginning of the year and “threaten to close down altogether Saudi Arabia’s already extremely restricted space for free expression.”

“These regulations dash any hope that King Abdullah intends to open a space for peaceful dissent or independent groups,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

(H/T: Times of Israel)

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