Saudi Arabia expels Canadian ambassador, freezes business

Hugh Fox
August 6, 2018

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs also condemned Canada's calls for the release of detained activists as "blatant interference in the Kingdom's domestic affairs".

Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada's ambassador and announced a freeze on new trade and investment in response to pressure from the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to release detained civil and human rights activists.

Saudi authorities last week arrested two prominent women rights activists, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Saadah, and held them incommunicado, Saudi human rights groups said.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at worldwide rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW), described Saudi Arabia's move as a "petulant fit in response to what are in fact basic, reasonable demands from Canada calling for the release of detained political activists".

The Saudi foreign ministry said, "It is very unfortunate that the words "immediate release" appeared in the Canadian statement... it is unacceptable in relations between countries".

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And it says any other attempt to "interfere with our internal affairs" by Canada will mean Saudi Arabia will be allowed to interfere in Canada's internal affairs.

"Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs", said the statement.

Freeland said on social media last Thursday that she was "alarmed" to hear of Samar Badawi's arrest.

In a statement released to the official Saudi Press Agency Sunday, the ministry "expressed disbelief by this negative unfounded comment, which was not based in any accurate or true information". Bilateral trade between the two nations reached $3 billion in 2016, with tanks and fighting vehicles among the top Canadian exports to the kingdom, according to government statistics.

The Canadian embassy in Riyadh had said it was "gravely concerned" about a new wave of detentions of human-rights campaigners in the kingdom, including Samar Badawi, an award-winning gender rights activist.

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Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar has been granted asylum by Canada, where she is raising their three children now aged 14, 13 and 10 as a single mother.

The Saudi foreign ministry voiced anger over the Canadian statement.

"Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this hard time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi", she wrote on Twitter.

Badawi and another high-profile Saudi women's rights activist, Nassima al-Sadah, were arrested in the kingdom last week, sparking an worldwide outcry.

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