Members of congress send message to Saudi King: Improve religious freedom

March 11, 2015 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

religious freedomWashington, D.C., Febuary 22, 2015: In a new letter endorsed by International Christian Concern and Amnesty International, 67 Members of Congress today called upon King Salman of Saudi Arabia to make significant reforms in the area of human rights and religious freedom. The letter, led by Congressmen Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Peter Roskam (R-IL), is the first of its kind sent to the newly installed monarch and sends a strong message to a nation widely considered one of the most restrictive on earth.

The letter, after expressing condolences at the death of the King’s brother, includes a list of recommendations for human rights improvements. “In this moment of transition…you have an historic opportunity…to strengthen education and initiate judicial reform, by ending the ban on women driving…lifting restrictions on public gatherings and social media; reforming “anti-terror” laws that have criminalized some who peacefully express criticism; ensuring due process in criminal proceedings and ending the use of torture; and allowing religious minorities to exercise their faiths…” the letter reads.

In addition to Members of Congress, the letter was also endorsed by a broad coalition of 15 non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), including International Christian Concern, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Equality Now. The unusually broad coalition of NGO’s, and the bi-partisan make-up of the letter, is indicative of the widespread concern for human rights abuses taking place in Saudi Arabia.

On September 5th, 28 Christians were arrested by Saudi authorities after Saudi “religious police” raided a suspected underground church. While the Christians were released the next day, raids on illegal places of worship remain common, and Christians and other religious minorities in the past have been held for extensive periods of time or been deported from the country. In January of 2014, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ranked Saudi Arabia as the 4th most restrictive nation worldwide in terms of government regulation on religion. In the first line of its most recent report on the issue, the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Office noted “Freedom of religion [in Saudi Arabia] is neither recognized nor protected under the law and the government severely restricted it in practice.”

ICC’s Advocacy Director, Isaac Six, said, “There are few nations on earth more emphatically determined to suppress religious freedom than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, yet few people around the world understand just how repressive the regime actually is. This letter is significant for two reasons. First, it sends a clear message to the Saudi leadership that they must very carefully consider their policies on religious freedom and human rights in the calculus of the U.S.-Saudi bilateral relationship. This in and of itself could alleviate some of the suffering of religious and other minorities in the country. Secondly, it reminds the world that these restrictions are not a joke, that they deeply impact the lives of millions of men, women, and children who deserve to be treated with the same respect that many of us enjoy on a daily basis, and that a significant number of our elected representatives have and will continue to make removing these restrictions a high priority of our nation’s foreign policy.

ICC is honored to have been a contributor to this initiative, and we must express our sincere gratitude to our other NGO partners as well as Members of Congress who took the time to endorse this important letter.”

– icc

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