Last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who sits on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined a letter calling for the release of women held as political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.
Rubio joined U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, the top Democrat on the committee, in a letter to the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. on the matter.
“We call for releasing these individuals on the merits of their cases, but today, we also urge you to act quickly on health and humanitarian grounds,” wrote the senators. “The rapid spread of COVID-19 is a threat to all people and nations, but prison populations are at a heightened risk due to the inability to practice social distancing, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate medical care. We encourage the leaders of the Kingdom to seize this opportunity during this global crisis by immediately releasing these individuals.”
“In calling for all prisoners of conscience to be released, the senators specifically highlighted the cases of Loujain al-Hathloul, Nouf Abdulaziz, Maya’a al-Zahrani, Samar Badawi, and Nassima al-Sada, who remain arbitrarily detained for acts of peaceful expression and activism in advancing women’s and human rights in Saudi Arabia,” the senator’s office noted.
“These women have been wrongly detained simply for exercising their fundamental rights, and justice demands they be released,” the senators wrote.
Rubio was the only Republican to sign the letter. Other signers included Democratic U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Chris Coons of Delaware, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.
In recent months, Rubio has grown increasingly active in pushing the Saudis on human rights matters.
In July 2019, Rubio and U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., wrote U.S. Sec. of State Mike Pompeo on the matter, urging the U.S. State Department to press the Saudi government to expand human rights and release women’s rights activists. Also that month, Rubio paired up with U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, to bring out “the Saudi Arabia Diplomatic Review Act” (SADRA). The bill would have the executive branch examine the connections between the two nations.
At the start of last year, Rubio paired up with Senate Democrats Markey and Ron Wyden of Oregon to showcase the “Saudi Educational Transparency and Reform Act” which would make the State Department “report on religious intolerance in education materials and curriculums distributed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Also at the start of last year, Rubio and Markey championed the “Saudi Nuclear Nonproliferation Act.” Over in the U.S. House, U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., teamed with U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., to champion to the proposal which “increases congressional oversight over any civil nuclear cooperation agreement – or 123 agreement – between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”
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