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Saudi Arabia expels Canadian envoy over 'interference'

Ashutosh Pandey with Reuters, AFP
August 6, 2018

Riyadh has also recalled its ambassador and suspended new trade and investment with Canada. The move comes after Canada urged the kingdom to release arrested civil rights activists.

Gender rights activist Samar Badawi
Canada urged Saudi Arabia to release arrested human rights activists, including Samar Badawi Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Wiklund

Saudi Arabia gave the Canadian ambassador in Riyadh 24 hours to leave the country and recalled its own envoy to Canada after the North American country urged Riyadh to release arrested civil rights activists.

Riyadh also suspended new trade and investment with Canada and its state-owned airline, Saudia, announced it would be suspending flights between Toronto and Riyadh.

"The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and is in contravention of the most basic international norms and all the charters governing relations between States," the Saudi foreign ministry said on Twitter.

Earlier, the Canadian foreign ministry and the Canadian embassy in Riyadh expressed concerns over the arrests of human rights activists, including award-winning gender rights activist Samar Badawi, in a new wave of detentions. They called on Saudi authorities to "immediately release" the detainees.

'Women's rights are human rights'

The Saudi foreign ministry voiced anger over the Canadian statement.

"Using the phrase (immediately release) in the Canadian statement is very unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable in relations between States," the Saudi ministry said on Twitter.

But Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland defended her ministry's call on Saudi Arabia to release the activists.

"Let me be very clear with everyone here and with the Canadians who may be watching and listening: Canada will always stand up for human rights, in Canada and around the world, and women's rights are human rights," she said.

'Petulant fit'

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at international 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."

"It’s pathetic that rather than respect the basic rights of its citizens and end its wide scale persecution of independent voices, it’s punishing even friendly states who give it helpful advice," Whitson told DW.

Samar Badawi, sister of detained rights activist Raif Badawi,and fellow campaigner Nassima al-Saddah were arrested last week in what HRW called "an unprecedented government crackdown on the women's rights movement."

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Ashutosh Pandey
Ashutosh Pandey Business editor with a focus on international trade, financial markets and the energy sector.@ashutoshpande85