More than two years have passed since Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Jamal’s work as a journalist, his advocacy for democratic reforms and the brutality of his death have served as a clarion call for people around the world who believe in the values of freedom, justice, and truth.
It is precisely these values that are at the heart of journalism — a dedication to telling stories that must be told, especially when it is difficult and the powerful or corrupt would prefer to keep them quiet. And for the crime of speaking the truth, journalists around the world are imprisoned, tortured, and, like Jamal, murdered in an effort to silence and intimidate them.
And while his murder shocked the conscience of the world, Jamal was not the only journalist to be targeted by powerful forces who wished to silence a critic or truth teller. In fact, the world has seen a rising tide of violence against journalists. The International Federation of Journalists estimates 2,658 journalists and media workers have been murdered over the past 30 years while doing their work, nearly two killed every week.
Put teeth in commitment to free press
Arrests of journalists have risen sharply in recent years and attacks against them are often carried out with impunity — all because reporters are simply doing their jobs.
For four dark years, the United States failed to lead on press freedom, both here at home, and around the world. But we’ve seen very promising signs that under President Joe Biden, the United States will once again dedicate itself to upholding human rights and democracy globally.
As part of that change in mission, we must recognize that the assault on democratic values and the assault on press freedom are interconnected. Efforts to intimidate or silence independent voices are inseparable from efforts by the wealthy and powerful to escape consequences for wrongdoing. As authoritarian rulers use state power to stifle dissent, and powerful interests use violence, coercion and other means to hide corruption, the United States must demonstrate resolve in combatting both.
That is why we introduced the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act, to ensure the United States holds to account those who commit gross human rights abuses against journalists. For the first time ever, this bill would put teeth in the U.S. commitment to uphold press freedom worldwide.
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The legislation builds on a bill passed by Congress in 2010, the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, which requires the State Department to report on press freedom around the world. The Khashoggi Act takes the next step by prohibiting U.S. foreign assistance to government entities that perpetrate gross human rights violations against journalists, and by levying sanctions on individuals and foreign leaders who do the same. It would also require the State Department to document incidents of online harassment and electronic surveillance of journalists in its annual Human Rights Reports.
Safeguard journalists’ lives
These targeted sanctions are modeled on those passed by Congress in the Global Magnitsky Act, which gives the president the authority and the discretion to impose targeted sanctions on individuals complicit in human rights abuses. Our bill goes further and requires action if the president determines there is evidence that such offenses have been committed against a journalist.
Our message is clear: The United States must ensure that egregious crimes against journalists do not go unanswered. Placing our democratic values at the center of our foreign policy and law is how we enshrine those values for ourselves, the rest of the world and future generations.
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As President Biden affirmed in his address to the State Department this month, “a free press isn’t an adversary; rather, it’s essential.” Supporting press freedom and prioritizing our values means using every tool in our arsenal to safeguard journalists’ lives. By standing up for this fundamental principle, we can honor Jamal’s brave legacy and ensure our own.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Amy Klobuchar is the senior senator from Minnesota and the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee. Follow them on Twitter: @RepAdamSchiff and @amyklobuchar