Schiff Introduces Legislation to Protect Journalists from Human Rights Abuses

Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act Would Levy Targeted Sanctions, Restrict Foreign Aid, and Bolster Reporting on Human Rights Abuses Committed Against Journalists

Washington DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act to ensure that the United States holds accountable those who commit extrajudicial killings and other gross violations of human rights against journalists.

This legislation would prohibit U.S. foreign assistance to government entities and levy targeted sanctions against individuals that perpetrate gross human rights violation against journalists, and would require the Department of State to document incidents of online harassment and electronic surveillance of journalists in its annual Human Rights Reports.

“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,” said Rep. Adam Schiff. “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.”

The legislation is cosponsored by Representatives James P. McGovern (D-MA), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Mark Takano (D-CA), Susan Wild (D-PA), Michael FQ San Nicolas (D-Guam), Al Green (D-TX), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Steve Cohen (D-TN), and Joe Neguse (D-CO). It is also supported by Reporters Without Borders, PEN America, the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Freedom House, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Ten years ago, Congress passed Rep. Schiff’s Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, a bill named for Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and murdered by militants in Pakistan in 2002. The Act requires the Department of State to compile data on restrictions against freedom of the press and threats to journalists as part of its annual human rights reporting process.

While Mr. Khashoggi’s murder was shocking for its brutality and brazenness, he is far from the only journalist to be targeted by powerful forces who wish to silence dissenting voices and do so with impunity. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 637 journalists were killed in relation to their work in the past ten years, including at least 337 of whom were singled out for murder in direct retaliation for their reporting. In 96 percent of those targeted cases, some or all of the perpetrators have gone unpunished.

"The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and evidence that spyware was used to surveil Khashoggi and his colleagues before he was killed, has put on stark display the severity of threats to journalists around the world," said Michael De Dora, Washington Advocacy Manager for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "This bill would help shed additional light on digital attacks against the press, and create new levers for the U.S. government to hold accountable those who target journalists for violence. It is a welcome effort, and Congress should give it the serious consideration it deserves."

“The Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act of 2020 is an important tool for the United States to defend press freedom around the world,” Stephen McInerney, Executive Director, the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED). “By enhancing transparency surrounding human rights abuses targeting journalists and pressing the administration to hold violators to account, this bill honors the legacy of Jamal Khashoggi.”

"We commend Congressman Schiff's efforts to protect journalists and strengthen global press freedom,” said Annie Boyajian, Director of Advocacy at Freedom House. “The horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi is unfortunately just one example of the dangers faced by those bravely reporting on corruption and human rights abuses around the world. The Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act is a welcome step toward ensuring accountability for those committing crimes against journalists, including those who murdered Mr. Khashoggi. We urge its swift passage into law."

"The Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act of 2020 brings the US government a step closer toward Saudi accountability for the assassination of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, which took place more than two years ago this month,” said Isabel Amossé, head of advocacy for Reporters Without Borders. “At a time when almost all crimes against journalists are met with impunity, Reporters Without Borders thanks Congressman Schiff for his leadership in pushing toward accountability for the Saudi government's role in silencing independent voices like that of Jamal Khashoggi."

Click here to read the full text of the legislation.