(House of Representatives - May 22, 2017)

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[Pages H4393-H4394]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from 
Massachusetts (Mr. McGovern) for 5 minutes.
  Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, June 17 will mark the fifth anniversary of 
the arrest of Raif Badawi, a human activist and writer who created the 
website ``Free Saudi Liberals.'' He is a prisoner of conscience 
sentenced to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison, and a 10-year travel ban 
for exercising his fundamental right to freedom of expression.
  He was convicted of violating Saudi Arabia's draconian information 
technology law and ``insulting Islam.''
  Since his imprisonment in 2012, Raif's case has garnered 
international attention and outrage. For the courage he displayed as a 
free-speech advocate, he has won many awards, including the Reporters 
Without Borders World Press Freedom Prize in 2014, the PEN Pinter 
International Writer of Courage Prize, and the Sakharov Prize for 
Freedom of Thought in 2015.
  His writings were a breath of fresh air in a country that ranks 168 
out of 180 in Reporters Without Borders 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
  In January 2015, Raif received the first 50 of the 1,000 lashes 
ordered by the so-called court that sentenced him. Try to imagine what 
that means, what it would feel like to have someone whip you 50 times 
in a row, what it would do to your body, and how it would cut you up 
and make you bleed. The lashing was carried out in public in front of a 
mosque as men stood around and cheered. It was barbaric.
  A week after the first session of flogging, a doctor advised prison 
authorities that Raif's wounds had not healed enough for him to undergo 
the second round of this brutal punishing. To date, the lashings have 
not continued, but they could resume at any time.
  Last year, Raif had to resort to a hunger strike to get access to 
healthcare. It has been 5 years since he has seen his wife, Ensaf, and 
his three children. They are growing up, and he is missing it because 
he dared to write what he thought.
  I am sorry to say that Raif is not an isolated case. Reporters 
Without Borders has identified another 10 journalists and citizen 
journalists detained in Saudi Arabia.
  Waleed Abu al-Khair, a prominent human rights defender and Raif's 
lawyer, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for ``harming the 
reputation of the state by communicating with international 
organizations'' and other supposed crimes, like ``insulting the 
judiciary and questioning the integrity of judges'' and ``disobeying 
the ruler and seeking to remove his legitimacy.''
  Many other human rights defenders are in prison for doing things like 
setting up human rights organizations without permission and calling 
for protests. All of the founders of the Saudi Civil and Political 
Rights Association have been wrongfully put on trial or imprisoned.
  Mr. Speaker, I understand that Saudi Arabia is an ally of the United 
States, but we also know that Saudi Arabia's human rights record is 
terrible. According to our own State Department, ``The most important 
human rights problems include citizens' lack of ability and legal means 
to choose their government, restrictions on universal rights such as 
freedom of expression, including on the internet, association, 
movement, and religion, and pervasive gender discrimination and lack of 
equal rights that affect most aspects of women's lives.''
  That is not exactly a short list, Mr. Speaker. Yet the President of 
the United States just traveled to Saudi Arabia without saying a single 
word in public about human rights, without speaking up even once on 
behalf of all the people who are wasting away in jails because they 
chose to defend a client, advocate for minorities, or call for reform.
  The President wants to buy cooperation in the fight against extremism 
with a $110 billion arms deal, but Saudi Arabia will not achieve 
security or stability by repressing peaceful dissent. On the contrary, 
repression creates the conditions for extremism.
  Haven't we learned that lesson by now?
  Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war, understands what the 
President does not. We in the United

[[Page H4394]]

States have long believed moral concerns must be an essential part of 
our foreign policy, not a departure from it. Our values are our great 
strength and greatest treasure. We have been the country that saw the 
world as it was and made it better.
  Mr. Speaker, I am here today in the best tradition of the United 
States to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Raif 
Badawi, who must be allowed to be reunited with his wife and children 
in Canada. And I call also for all of the other prisoners of conscience 
in Saudi Arabia to be released.
  The United States must not be silent while people sit in prison for 
exercising their most basic human rights.