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Senior US House Democrat introduces Khashoggi Act to protect journalists

Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of House Intelligence Committee, says legislation would 'hold to account those who would target journalists for violence and persecution'
California Congressman Adam Schiff is the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
California Congressman Adam Schiff is chair of House Intelligence Committee (AFP)
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Washington

A senior US House Democrat introduced a bill on Thursday that would halt US assistance to "foreign entities" and issue sanctions against individuals responsible for human rights violations against journalists.

Representative Adam Schiff, chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the proposed bill - titled the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act - would also require the State Department to document online harassment and electronic surveillance of journalists in its Human Rights Reports.

"A free and independent press is necessary for citizens to make informed choices on issues of public concern, to have the information necessary to recognize truth from falsehood, and to hold the powerful and government officials to account," the bill says.

The legislation was co-sponsored by 16 other Democrats and supported by a number of press freedom advocacy groups, including PEN America, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

If passed, it would mandate that the State Department create a publicly accessible list of foreign individuals who have committed "gross human rights violations" against a journalist, member of the media, or any one involved in "reporting newsworthy activity".

It would also require the president to impose sanctions on those individuals and halt assistance to any foreign government entity responsible for rights violations.

A royal family insider turned critic, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, in a case that significantly tarnished the reputation of the kingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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Riyadh initially denied the assassination and claimed the journalist left the building alive, but two weeks later admitted he had been killed, describing the murder as a rogue operation occurring without the knowledge or approval of the country's leadership.

The remains of Khashoggi, a columnist for Middle East Eye and the Washington Post, have never been found.

"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," Schiff said in a statement.

Last month, Schiff sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines welcoming the Biden administration's pledge to release a declassified report reportedly detailing who killed Khashoggi.

Schiff called for the document to be made public "without delay".

The bill comes 10 years after Congress passed a similar piece of legislation, also introduced by Schiff, which required the State Department to compile data on restrictions of press freedom around the world and threats to journalists as a part of its yearly human rights reportage.

That law was named after Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan in 2002.

The National Press Club welcomed the announcement and said it applauded "any effort that would serve justice in cases where journalists are killed or otherwise grossly abused or that would promote global press freedom".

"Every year, dozens of journalists worldwide are either killed or attacked, and the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi was one of the more horrific examples of this unacceptable phenomenon."