Press release

United States: Lawmakers Call for Release of Saudi Activists, Accountability for Khashoggi Murder

A bipartisan letter from members of Congress calls on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to defend human rights in Saudi Arabia.


In response to the publication of a bipartisan, bicameral letter calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to work for the release of jailed women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, as well as to the passage of two measures in the US House of Representatives that condemn the continued detention and abuse of these women and seek accountability for the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“It is encouraging to see members of Congress on both sides of the aisle taking a strong stance in support of human rights in Saudi Arabia,” said Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “It is critical that the United States demonstrate its commitment to human rights–based reform in Saudi Arabia by working both privately and publicly to secure the release of these brave women’s rights activists and by holding accountable Saudi officials who were involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. US failure to take action on these issues would send a signal to other autocratic rulers that they are free to jail or employ violence against their critics, even beyond their own borders. We applaud the leadership of Senators Marco Rubio and Benjamin Cardin and Representatives Lois Frankel, David Cicilline, Ann Wagner, and Susan Wild in condemning the detention and abuse of women’s rights advocates and the leadership of Representative Tom Malinowski in continuing to push for sanctions on those behind Khashoggi’s murder.”


Since May 2018, Saudi Arabian authorities have detained women’s rights defenders on the baseless claim that they were in contact with unnamed “hostile” foreign powers. This crackdown continued with the arrest in April 2019 of individuals with ties to the jailed activists and others who support social reforms, such as the abolition of the male guardianship system in the country. Though their detention has carried on for months, many activists remain unindicted. In addition, there have been disturbing reports that some of the women’s rights defenders were tortured by senior Saudi officials. Both House Resolution 129, adopted on July 15, and the congressional letter released the same day condemn the activists’ detention and call for their release.

In October 2018, Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi national living in the United States, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was murdered and dismembered in retaliation for his critical commentary on the Saudi regime. US intelligence officials have reportedly concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination. He has yet to be held accountable. HR 2037, a bill adopted by the House of Representatives on July 15, requires the director of national intelligence to issue a report on those responsible for Khashoggi’s death and instructs the US government to deny or revoke visas for those identified. The bill also requires the secretary of state to issue a report on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Saudi Arabia is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2019 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2018.