(Washington, D.C.) — In a strong bipartisan vote Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protection of Saudi Dissidents Act of 2021. The bill responds to Saudi Arabia’s gross abuse of dissidents and freedom of expression abroad by placing human rights requirements at the center of America’s diplomatic and military engagement with the Saudi government. PEN America welcomes the passage of the act in the House, thanks the sponsors for their leadership on this critical issue, and urges the Senate to quickly take up this important piece of legislation.

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel called on Congress to pass the bill in testimony last month at a hearing held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on assessing the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. “The present moment represents a critical juncture to reorient U.S. policy on Saudi Arabia… to ‘re-calibrate’ the relationship, to tip the scales in the direction of human rights,” Nossel told members of Congress. “Congress should pass the Protection of Saudi Dissidents Act, reintroduced this year by Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA), in order to help deter further harassment and violence against activists and dissidents by the Saudi government.”

“The bipartisan passage of this bill is an important step in making clear to the Saudi government that the United States will not tolerate extraterritorial acts of violence and intimidation to silence dissent,” Dokhi Fassihian, interim Washington Director of PEN America, said. “Passage of this bill in the Senate as well would demonstrate a commitment to defending free expression and would strengthen accountability for the Kingdom’s targeting of independent Saudi voices abroad. We thank Rep. Connolly for his leadership on this issue.”

The bill would limit arms exports to Saudi intelligence, internal security, or law enforcement entities if the president finds that Saudi Arabia has engaged in specific human rights abuses. It would also require closures of Saudi diplomatic facilities if the president finds they are used to harass or harm Saudi nationals in the United States, and would mandate a report on Saudi Arabia’s acts of intimidation or harassment against individuals in the United States.