Members of Congress to Saudi King: Release Jailed Dissidents, Pursue Human Rights Reforms

Members of Congress to Saudi King: Release Jailed Dissidents, Pursue Human Rights Reforms

Sixty-seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives today sent a letter to the new Saudi Arabian King Salman calling for the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience, including prominent dissidents Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair, and human rights reforms within the country.

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You can download the letter here.

The Center for Inquiry was among 17 human rights groups to endorse the letter, which was organized and sent by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and James McGovern (D-MA).

The cases of Badawi and al-Khair have been central to CFI’s international work over the past several years. Badawi was arrested in 2012 for creating an online forum dedicated to open discussion on religion and politics. In May 2014, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, and a one million riyal fine; he has since received one round of lashes. Al-Khair, a human rights lawyer who defended Badawi, was arrested in April 2014 for his activism and, in July 2014, sentenced to 15 years in prison for charges including “undermining the regime and officials,” “inciting public opinion,” and “insulting the judiciary.”

In addition to pressing for the release of Badawi and al-Khair, CFI has also called for broader human rights reform in Saudi Arabia — an effort echoed in today’s House letter:

In this moment of transition, and recognizing that your country is a state party to several international human rights conventions, you have an historic opportunity to build on the steps taken by King Abdullah to strengthen education and initiate judicial reform, by ending the ban on women driving and reforming the guardianship system; lifting restrictions on public gatherings and social media; reforming “anti-terror” laws that have criminalized some who peacefully express criticism; ensuring due process in criminal proceedings and ending the use of torture; allowing religious minorities to exercise their faiths; and enacting a law for associations so that local human rights organizations are formally recognized. Cancelling the sentences against Mr. Raif Badawi and Mr. Waleed Abu al-Khair, and releasing immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience punished solely for exercising their basic right to freedom of expression, would be important steps that would communicate your commitments to an expectant international audience.

Human rights groups endorsing the letter include Amnesty International USA, International Christian Concern, Christian Solidarity Worldwide-UK, In Defense of Christians, Human Rights Watch, Project on Middle East Democracy, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, US National Committee for UN Women, Women’s Action for New Directions, Women Thrive Worldwide, Peace X Peace, Equality Now, PEN American Center, Center for Inquiry, National Organization for Women Foundation, Universal Muslim Association of America, and the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.

In January, eight members of the U.S. Senate wrote a similar letter to the late King Abdullah. You can read that letter here.

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