02.16.21

Klobuchar, Leahy Introduce Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act

. . . . Honoring the memory of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, this legislation would ensure governments that commit human rights abuses against journalists are held accountable by the United States

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced legislation to ensure governments that commit human rights abuses against journalists are held accountable by the United States. It is widely believed that Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and resident of the U.S., was murdered in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul under orders from the Saudi government because of his writings in opposition to Saudi government policies.

To help protect journalists across the world, the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act would place targeted sanctions, restrict foreign aid, and increase reporting on human rights abuses committed against journalists by foreign governments.

“Across the world, journalists keep citizens informed and government leaders accountable. We must ensure they are able to do their jobs without fear of harm,” Klobuchar said. “It is unacceptable to suppress, imprison, and violently target the press, and the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act would ensure there are consequences for foreign governments that attempt to do so.”

“It is appalling that journalists today in many countries are increasingly the targets of harassment, threats, wrongful imprisonment, and assassination by government agents,” Leahy said. “Jamal Khashoggi’s gruesome murder was not an isolated case. It showed the world the peril journalists face every day. The United States, where a free press is the cornerstone of our democracy, should do everything possible to defend the rights and safety of journalists and ensure that those who abuse their authority to intimidate and silence the press are held accountable. That is the goal of this legislation.

Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) leads companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“This legislation, named in honor of the late Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, would build upon the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act to strengthen the United States’ commitment to hold to account those who would target journalists for violence and persecution,” Schiff said. “A free and independent media is essential for a free society, and the United States must stand with journalists around the world who risk their lives to expose corruption, express independent and critical voices, and tell the difficult stories that must be told.”

“Sen. Klobuchar’s bill is an important step toward expanding protections for journalists who face risks of imprisonment, torture, and even death for the work they do every day discerning and reporting the facts,” said Thomas O. Melia, Washington director of PEN America. “Enacting this bill will not only shore up the free press as a bulwark of global security and democracy, but will enhance accountability by imposing sanctions on those responsible for committing gross human rights violations against journalists.”

“Reporters without Borders (RSF) is grateful for the leadership of Senator Klobuchar and Congressman Schiff in reintroducing the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act and we strongly encourage further congressional support for it,” said RSF USA Executive Director Anna K. Nelson. "The United States' commitment to the protection of journalists and the promotion of press freedom internationally is critical, given its prominent role on the world stage. Not only does this bill seek justice for the senseless murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it also increases protection for reporters who risk torture, imprisonment, and even death as they report critical information."

"The shocking murder of Jamal Khashoggi was a gruesome wake up call about the severity of threats that journalists around the world endure in the course of their work," said Michael De Dora, Washington Advocacy Manager for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "The U.S. government must not sit idly by while journalists are targeted with spyware, thrown in jail, and murdered with impunity. The Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act would increase both transparency and accountability for international violations of journalists' rights. It is a welcome effort, and Congress should give it the serious consideration it deserves."

The Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act is endorsed by Reporters Without Borders, PEN America, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Freedom House, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act will: 

  1. Build upon the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act by requiring the Department of State to document electronic surveillance and online harassment against journalists in its annual human rights reports.
  2. Require the US government to place targeted sanctions against a foreign person if they commit a gross violation of human rights against a journalist.
  3. Restrict foreign aid to government entities in the event that a senior official commits a gross violation of human rights against a journalist.

In October, Klobuchar and Leahy led a group of 10 senators in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the Administration to increase its efforts to protect journalists around the world and hold foreign leaders accountable for suppressing freedom of the press.

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