Senate

Senate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen

Nine Senate Democrats on Tuesday called on Saudi Arabia's King Salman to release several imprisoned dissidents and human rights activists, including a U.S. citizen held since 2017.

"Not only have reputable international organizations detailed the arbitrary detention of peaceful activists and dissidents without trial for long periods, but the systematic discrimination against women, religious minorities and mistreatment of migrant workers and others has also been well-documented," the senators wrote in a letter.

The lawmakers called for King Salman to pardon human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair and writer Raif Badawi, in addition to immediately releasing women's rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul and Samar Badawi, and Dr. Walid Fitaihi, a U.S. citizen held without charges since November 2017.

Fitaihi's son Ahmed Fitaihi has lobbied lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to call for his father's release, and is scheduled to appear at a news conference Thursday with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to discuss allegations that the Saudi government has tortured his father, according to The New York Times.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said last week at a confirmation hearing for John Abizaid, President Trump's nominee for ambassador to Saudi Arabia, that the Fitaihi case indicated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has "gone full gangster."

Tuesday's letter also expressed concerns that any domestic reforms under the crown prince have been "deeply undermined" by actions such as the murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi, "overreliance" on the death penalty and Saudi Arabia's military intervention in neighboring Yemen.

The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Leahy, Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Ed Markey (Mass.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.).

"Our shared interests must be underscored by support for basic values and freedoms, as anything else will not be sustainable," the senators wrote.

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