Press release July 11, 2022
Biden Must Prioritize Human Rights Concerns on Visit to Saudi Arabia
Freedom House calls on President Biden to send a strong global message by standing up to the Saudi regime’s authoritarian abuses.
In advance of the US president’s official visit to Jeddah, where he will attend a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council and meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The Saudi regime is one of the most repressive in the world, and its efforts to silence and punish domestic dissent have escalated since Mohammed bin Salman came into power,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “President Biden must emphasize human rights concerns in his conversations with the crown prince and make human rights central to the next phase of US-Saudi relations, including by demanding an end to the politicized detention, execution, and transnational repression of Saudi citizens, as we saw with the violent murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey and the illegal rendition of Loujain al-Hathloul. The impact of such abuses extends beyond Saudi Arabia’s domestic affairs and even the bilateral US-Saudi relationship: lack of accountability for Khashoggi’s murder is a green light to other authoritarians to persecute dissidents abroad and violate national sovereignty in the process.
“As a presidential candidate, Biden vowed to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its actions. Yet the kingdom continues to engage in arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and execution of its perceived opponents. President Biden must not, through this meeting, inadvertently legitimize brazen human rights abuses in the eyes of the international community. Instead, the administration should use US diplomatic and economic influence to deter antidemocratic practices and stem the global tide of authoritarianism.
“What happens on this trip will send a powerful message to America’s democratic friends and partners, including fledgling democracy movements that look to Washington for support and inspiration. To ensure that the message is an encouraging one, President Biden must publicly push the Saudi regime to unconditionally release political prisoners like Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, Israa al-Ghomgham, and Waleed Abu al-Khair, to cease attacks on dissidents who have fled the country, and to lift restrictions on free expression—which, far from undermining the state, would contribute to long-term political stability in Saudi Arabia.”
On July 15 and 16, President Biden will travel to Jeddah to meet with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and other regional powers as part of a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The planned talks with the Saudi crown prince—which President Biden has characterized as “not going to meet with MBS, [but] going to an international meeting and [Mohammed bin Salman] is going to be part of it”—have received criticism from human rights and democracy advocates.
On June 9, Freedom House and 12 other rights organizations signed a letter to the president, urging him “to secure genuine progress on human rights before acting in a manner that would bolster the status of the crown prince and his government, which routinely and callously abuses the rights of its own citizens, as well as those of Americans and others around the world.”
Saudi Arabia is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2022 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2021, and it is featured in Out of Sight, Not Out of Reach as a key state perpetrator of transnational repression.
Freedom House is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to create a world where all are free. We inform the world about threats to freedom, mobilize global action, and support democracy’s defenders.
Opinion | It’s Not Just Khashoggi: The Saudi Issue Biden Can’t Ignore
July 13, 2022
President Biden must set preconditions for meeting with Saudi crown prince
June 9, 2022
Transnational Repression Threatens Freedom Worldwide