02.04.21

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. Schiff first introduced this legislation in October of last year, and companion legislation was introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

“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. 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.”

Schiff recently sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines requesting the declassification of a report already produced by the Intelligence Community on the brutal, premeditated murder of Khashoggi.

“We must ensure that journalists in the United States and around the world are able to do their jobs without fear of harm,” Senator Klobuchar said. “It is unacceptable to suppress, imprison, and violently target the press, and the Jamal Khashoggi Act would ensure that the United States holds foreign governments who attempt to do so accountable.” 

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. Schiff continues to follow the latest developments in the Pakistani court proceedings to hold the men responsible for Pearl’s murder to account.

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. The International Federation of Journalists’ (IFJ) released a whitepaper in December regarding 2658 journalists and media workers who have been murdered worldwide since 1990, including 43 journalists in 2020.

The legislation is cosponsored by Representatives James McGovern (D-MA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Mark Takano (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Katie Porter (D-CA), Val Butler Demings (D-FL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), and Seth Moulton (D-MA).

It is also supported by Reporters Without Borders, PEN America, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Freedom House, Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights First, the International Women’s Media Foundation, and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

"If passed, this law would send a clear message to governments around the world that the US government will hold them accountable when they target journalists,” said Raed Jarrar, advocacy director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), the organization founded by Jamal Khashoggi before his 2018 murder. “The Act honors Khashoggi’s legacy as a brave journalist who paid the ultimate price for his commitment to free expression and democracy for the Arab world."

“Rep. Schiff’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 ‘Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act of 2021’ will help strengthen America's commitment to press freedom around the world and honor the legacy of Jamal Khashoggi by enhancing transparency surrounding human rights abuses targeting journalists and by pressing the executive branch to enforce consequences for such abuses,” said Stephen McInerney, Executive Director of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).

"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 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."

Click here to read the full text of the legislation.

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