Raskin, Mace Lead Bipartisan Effort to Free Political Prisoners in Saudi Arabia

Letter to Royal Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman underscores Members’ fight to protect freedom of speech at home and abroad

March 27, 2023

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability and Congresswoman Nancy Mace (SC-01), Chairwoman of the Committee’s Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Government Innovation Subcommittee, wrote a letter to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman calling for the immediate release of Saudi citizens incarcerated merely for sending tweets. Although the Crown Prince promised to “obliterate the remnants of extremism when he initially came to power, his government has since jailed numerous Saudi Arabians, and even an American dual citizen, for expressing themselves online in tweets critical of Saudi government policies.

“Jailing people for their expression, including criticism of their nation’s political rulers, is an intolerable violation of human rights and freedom of speech,” wrote the lawmakers. “No human being should spend a day—much less 19 years or 34 years—behind bars because they have displeased a government ruler with their opinions. The people of Saudi Arabia have a right to their own ideas and to express themselves without state agents ripping them from their families and throwing them into jail.“

The lawmakers continued: “In 2022 alone, Amnesty International documented cases of 15 people who were sentenced to prison terms of between 10 and 45 years in your country simply for peacefully expressing themselves online. As of February 2023, the organization documented the cases of 67 individuals who have been prosecuted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, including 32 who were prosecuted for peacefully expressing their opinions on social media.”

“The Saudi Arabian government’s escalating repression of online freedom of expression is a serious human rights concern,” said Elizabeth Rghebi, Middle East and North Africa Advocacy Director of Amnesty International USA. “The online crackdown is just one tool Saudi authorities are using to repress dissent. This letter sends an important message to the Saudi authorities that they must immediately release individuals arrested for their peaceful online activities."

"The Freedom Initiative applauds Representatives Mace and Raskin for leading this effort to highlight the Saudi government's brutal attack on peaceful expression,” said Todd Ruffner, Advocacy Director of The Freedom Initiative. “Too many families have been torn apart because the Saudi government cannot bear even the mildest critique, whether on Twitter or any other forum. Freedom of expression is not just an American value, but a universal value that all governments must respect."

“PEN America applauds this bipartisan letter highlighting the egregious attacks on free expression and human rights at the hands of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman. Whether in the form of an extended travel ban or a protracted prison sentence, these unjustified punishments use freely expressed opinions to silence and oppress. The repressive transnational policing carried out by the Saudi regime must end," said PEN America’s Managing Director of Washington and Free Expression Programs, Nadine Farid Johnson.

Rep. Raskin’s and Rep. Mace’s efforts have been joined by more than 20 colleagues and are supported by numerous human rights organizations including Amnesty International USA, Freedom House, The Freedom Initiative, and PEN America.

Co-signers of Rep. Raskin’s letter include: André Carson (D-Ind.), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-Fla.), Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas), Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Daniel Goldman (D-N.Y.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Jill Tokuda (D-Hawaii), David Trone (D-Md.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.)

The full letter can be found here.