Saudi Arabia has asked Canada’s ambassador to leave the country within 24 hours, just two days after Canada criticized the arrest of women’s rights and other civil society activists in the Arab kingdom.
In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Canada of making “false” statements and interfering with Saudi internal affairs, and said ambassador Dennis Horak was no longer welcome in the country. It added that the Saudi ambassador to Ottawa was summoned back to the kingdom for consultations.
Saudi Arabia will also freeze all new trade and investment transactions with Canada.
Global Affairs Canada and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had issued statements late last week calling for the release of Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed dissident blogger Raif Badawi, who was arrested in Saudi Arabia.
Samar Badawi is the sister-in-law of Raif Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Quebec and recently became a Canadian citizen.
On Sunday, the Canadian embassy in Saudi Arabia tweeted a similar statement, this time in Arabic.
The Saudi retaliation came hours after.
In its statement, the Saudi foreign ministry said it rejected Canada’s characterization of the arrests in Saudi Arabia, and said it wouldn’t stand for outside intervention.
“The persons referred to were lawfully detained by the public prosecution for committing crimes punishable by applicable law, which also guaranteed the detainees’ rights and provided them with due process during the investigation and trial,” read the statement, seemingly referring to Samar Badawi and another prominent female activist, Nassima al-Sada.
It added that Canada’s criticism represented “blatant interference” in Saudi affairs, accusing Canada of violating “basic international norms and all international protocols” in its stand.
“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.”
On trade, the statement said Saudi Arabia will “put on hold all new business and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action.”
Canada in 2011 won an $11 billion contract to build light-armoured vehicles for Saudi Arabia, in what Ottawa hailed at the time as a major advanced manufacturing export win for Canada.
The Saudi statement concluded with a message to Canada and other countries, stating that all nations ” need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the Kingdom over its own citizens.”
In an email to Global News, a spokesperson for Minister Chrystia Freeland said they were seriously concerned over the media reports.
“We are seriously concerned by these media reports and are seeking greater clarity on the recent statement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Marie-Pier Baril said.
“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world. Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.”
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Analysts say the dispute between Riyadh and Ottawa shows Saudi Arabia won’t accept any outside criticism and will continue flexing its muscles abroad, especially as the kingdom enjoys a closer relationship with President Donald Trump.
“This message is obviously not just being sent to Ottawa,” said Giorgio Cafiero, the CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based risk consultancy. “It’s a message to countries across Europe and across the rest of the world that criticism of Saudi Arabia . has consequences.”
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Amnesty International said the arrests of Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada were part of a wider crackdown on human rights in Saudi Arabia.
“These brave women represented the last vestiges of the human rights community in the country, and now they too have been detained,” Amnesty International’s Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf said in a statement.
More than a dozen women’s rights activists have been targeted since May.
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Samar’s brother Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012 and charged with “insulting Islam through electronic channels.”
Badawi ran a website, Free Saudi Liberals, which published content critical of influential religious clerics and the festering of extremism in Saudi institutions.
He was condemned to seven years in prison and 600 lashes, although the sentence was later raised to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes and a monetary fine. He received 50 lashes in January 2015 in a public flogging, but is not known to have received more physical punishment since then.
*with files from the Associated Press