WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) and U.S. Representatives Lois Frankel (D-Fl.) and Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) today led a bicameral group in urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo through a bipartisan letter to press the Saudi government, both publicly and privately, to respect the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all Saudi citizens, and to immediately release the women’s rights activists. Saudi Arabia’s ongoing human rights abuses, particularly against women, continue to threaten the critical and historical partnership between Washington and Riyadh.
Other cosigners include: U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and U.S. Representatives David Trone (D-Md.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Ted Deutch (D-Fl.), Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Susan Wild (D-Pa.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).
Cardin is Ranking Member and Rubio is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues.
The full text of the letter is below.
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We write to express our concern regarding the ongoing detention and alleged mistreatment of women’s rights defenders wrongfully imprisoned in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We are deeply troubled by reports that some of the activists have been subjected to torture and abuse while in custody. In keeping with the Administration’s stated priorities of upholding U.S. values and protecting national security, we urge you to publicly and privately press Saudi Arabia’s senior government officials to respect the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all Saudi citizens and to immediately release the women’s rights activists.
Saudi Arabia has consistently been categorized by Freedom House and other human rights organizations as one of the worst violators of political rights and civil liberties, particularly for women. The most blatant recent example of this was the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. However, in May 2018, Saudi officials rounded up and arrested Saudi women’s rights activists on charges such as acting as agents of hostile foreign powers and undermining the security of Saudi Arabia. The crackdown continued in April 2019, when individuals with ties to currently jailed women activists and those supportive of social reforms were arrested. The crimes of these women and men were nothing more than exercising their fundamental right to peacefully protest their government’s repressive policies on issues pertaining to the right to drive, the male guardianship system, and the right to participate in elections. Many of those detained have yet to be indicted and there have been reports of some of the women being tortured by senior Saudi officials, including beatings, sleep deprivation, electric shocks, waterboarding, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and threats of murder.
The strategic partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia is in our national security interest. However, the government of Saudi Arabia’s continued human rights abuses risk threatening that partnership and our critical work to confront many regional challenges. Therefore, we urge you to raise, both publicly and privately, the issue of the Saudi women’s rights activists and urge for their immediate and unconditional release at the highest levels of the Saudi government until they are all free.
We appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to working with you to advance human rights in Saudi Arabia and ensure a more cooperative bilateral relationship.