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Connolly Submits Testimony in Support of DC Council's Jamal Khashoggi Way Designation Act of 2021

Today, Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, submitted testimony in support of the Council of the District of Columbia's proposed legislation to rename the street in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy after Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and Northern Virginia resident who was murdered at the direction of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. Connolly's full statement for the record follows:

Council of the District of Columbia
Committee of the Whole Public Hearing
Bill 24-22, Jamal Khashoggi Way Designation Act of 2021
Statement for the Record, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA)

First and foremost, I want to recognize that the decision before the Council to rename the street in front of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is strictly a local issue and should be decided by the Council. I have a long record of fighting for the right of the District and its residents to make their own decisions about how they wish to be governed, including defeating attacks on abortion rights and marijuana legalization in the District and of course decades spent championing DC Statehood.

Today, I provide testimony on the bill currently before the Council, Bill 24-22 the Jamal Khashoggi Way Designation Act of 2021, because Jamal Khashoggi was my constituent. In fact, I had dinner with him just months before he was brutally murdered. I am committed to justice and representation for Jamal, and it is with that purpose that I join the Council’s deliberations on this legislation.

In February of this year, more than two years after the cold-blooded murder of Washington Post journalist, and my constituent, Jamal Khashoggi, the Director of National Intelligence released a previously classified U.S. intelligence report. The report clearly stated: “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” It concluded that “since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization.”

We’ve always known, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman directed the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. We also know that this operation is part of a broad and ongoing effort to use violence to intimidate and silence dissidents abroad. Furthermore, we know that some of the killers of Jamal Khashoggi were trained in the United States, demonstrating an overwhelming need for reforms to our current arms sales processes and increased accountability. And yet, despite all this, Crown Prince MBS and Saudi Arabia have generally been shielded from accountability, especially by the previous administration, signaling this kind of abhorrent behavior was somehow ok, inviting further atrocities.

That impunity can end with legislation like the bill before the Council today. And we have ongoing legislative efforts moving at the federal level that would do the same.

My bill, H.R. 1392, the Protection of Saudi Dissidents Act of 2021, passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support earlier this year and is currently moving as part of the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act.

The Protection of Saudi Dissidents Act is targeted and does four things, specifically:

  • It limits arms exports to Saudi intelligence, internal security, or law enforcement entities if the President finds that Saudi Arabia has engaged in the following activities:
    • Forced repatriation, intimidation, or killing of dissidents in other countries;
    • The unjust imprisonment in Saudi Arabia of United States citizens or residents or the placing of travel restrictions on them or their family members;
    • And the torture of detainees in the custody of the Government of Saudi Arabia.
  • It requires the closure of one or more Saudi diplomatic facilities if the President finds that Saudi Arabia is using diplomatic or consular personnel to harass or harm Saudi nationals in the United States.
  • It requires a report on whether Saudi Arabia has been engaged in a consistent pattern of acts of intimidation or harassment directed against individuals in the United States.
  • And finally, it requires a report on whether the US intelligence community fulfilled its duty to warn Jamal Khashoggi of threats to his life.

This legislation has the support of dozens of human rights organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, PEN America, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Freedom Now, and many others.

When we turn a blind eye to human rights abuses, we embolden friend and foe alike to continue to engage in these horrific violations. We must end this “two-year pageant of impunity” and finally hold Saudi Arabia accountable for their treatment of dissidents and those who stand up for human rights and against autocratic repression. Jamal Khashoggi was not the only one to face the brutality of the Saudi regime and is not the only one who would benefit from the actions the Council and Congress are considering with respect to accountability for Saudi Arabia.

Please add my voice, as Jamal’s Congressman, to the chorus of support for the Jamal Khashoggi Way Designation Act of 2021.

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