Rabat – Saudi Arabia has expelled the Canadian ambassador over criticism from Canada’s foreign minister on the kingdom’s arrest of human rights activists.
Saudi Arabia considered Canada’s criticism as interference in the kingdom’s internal affairs.
Saudi Arabia also recalled its ambassador in Canada and announced Canada’s ambassador in Saudi Arabia to be “Persona-Non-Grata who must leave the Kingdom within the next 24 hours,” the Saudi press agency (SPA) reported today, August 6.
The kingdom made the decision after Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had denounced the arrest of two Saudi activists Samar Badawi and Raif Badawi by Saudi authorities.
Canada is “very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi,” wrote Freeland on her Twitter account on August 2.
Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah, both Saudi women’s rights activists, were arrested on July 30.
“This unprecedented level of persecution of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia is a disturbing sign that the crackdown is far from over,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director.
“These brave women represented the last vestiges of the human rights community in the country, and now they too have been detained,” he added.
According to SPA, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs found Freeland’s statement surprising. The Canadian ministry’s statement “is a negative unfounded comment, which was not based in any accurate or true information,” said the Saudi foreign ministry.
“The persons referred to were lawfully detained by the Public Prosecution for committing crimes punishable by applicable law,” the foreign ministry added.
The ministry also deemed the Canadian statement “a blatant interference” in domestic affairs.
Just one day after Freeland’s tweet, Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it “was gravely concerned” about arrested women’s rights activists, including Samar Badawi.
Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.
— Foreign Policy CAN (@CanadaFP) August 3, 2018
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry responded to the statement and asserted that “Canada and all other nations need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the Kingdom over its own citizens.”
“The Kingdom will put on hold all new business and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action,” it added.
Canada’s official response
Marie-Pier Baril, a spokeswoman for the Canadian foreign ministry, said Canada was “seriously concerned” by Saudi Arabia’s recent actions on suspending trade between the two countries, according to CTV News.
Despite the kingdom’s action, Canada’s position towards detained Saudi activists is constant. “Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world,” Baril said in a statement.
“Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy,” she added.
Saudi crackdown on women’s right activists
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Saudi authorities arrested many activists and intellectuals in September 2017 in a “coordinated crackdown on dissent.”
Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “has overseen a widespread crackdown on prominent activists, lawyers, and human rights defenders,” HRW said.
According to HRW, many detained activists were campaigning against “the ban on women driving and publicly advocating abolishing the male guardianship system.”
The Canadian foreign minister expressed her disappointment over the arrest of Saudi women activists.
“We are extremely disappointed by the arrest of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia,” said Freeland in May.
“The entire Canadian government is prepared to speak up for Saudi women.” She also called on Saudi authorities to release the activists.
— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) May 24, 2018
Raif Badawi’s family and detention
Raif Badawi is a Saudi blogger who was arrested in 2012 in Jeddah. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes for allegedly insulting Islam through his liberal blog.
The court also ordered that Badawi’s website be shut down since it criticized Saudi Arabia’s religious police. In 2014, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld the verdict against the Saudi blogger on appeal and increased the sentence to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, and a $266,000 fine.
Badawi’s arrest caused uproar worldwide. His case was raised by many international human rights activists and organizations, which called for his release.
Since 2013, Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, has been living in Canada with their three children. They four obtained Canadian nationality earlier this summer, according to Radio Canada International.