Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

The Human Rights Commission of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has hired Qorvis Communications for a nearly $700K one-year contract to handle strategic communications, media training, editorial services and polling in the United States.

Qorvis, which has long been Saudi Arabia's go-to firm since days after the 9/11 attacks, will receive a $57,500 monthly retainer, exclusive of expenses, under the one-year contract that began March 1. The move comes as bipartisan support grows in Congress to oppose aid to Saudi Arabia due to its poor human rights record.

Congress Jim McGovern (D-MA), who chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and Nadine Maenza, vice-chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, wrote an op-ed piece in The Hill on March 25, calling on president Trump to press Saudi Arabia for the release of blogger Raif Badawi, who has been jailed since 2014.

His "blog posts called for greater religious tolerance and dared to imagine a freer future for the Saudi people," according to the op-ed.

McGovern and Maenza called Badawi's detention a further stain on the Kingdom’s already-abysmal human rights record.

"From a 12-year prison sentence imposed on Shi’a minor Murtaja Qureiris for leading a bicycle protest, to the alleged torture of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, to the brutal murder of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia has made clear time and again that they do not respect or value the basic human rights to which all people are entitled," they wrote.

Established in 2005, the Commission says it was formed "to promote and protect human rights in accordance with international standards, to increase awareness of such rights and to contribute to ensuring that such rights are enforced in the light of the sharia."

Publicis Groupe owns Qorvis, which is the French firm's PA and public diplomacy unit.