OTTAWA | Canada said it was “seriously worried” about the expulsion of its ambassador to Ryad, announced by Saudi Arabia on Monday in response to Ottawa critics of the crackdown on opponents of the regime.
“We are seriously concerned about this press information and we are seeking to know more about the recent declaration of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Marie-Pier Baril, spokesman for the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement.
“Canada will always defend the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world,” she added. “Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and we believe that this dialogue is crucial for international diplomacy.”
This sudden tension in relations between the two countries came after the Saudi Foreign Ministry announced on Twitter the imminent expulsion of Dennis Horak, the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh, ordered to leave the kingdom in the 24 hours.
Saudi Arabia also recalled its ambassador to Canada “for consultations” and decided to “freeze all new trade and investment deals” with Canada.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “will not accept from any country an interference in its internal affairs or dictates,” said the Saudi ministry, reflecting the firmness of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in foreign policy.
“The rest of the world can not turn a blind eye as the fight against human rights defenders continues in Saudi Arabia,” Amnesty International said in a statement, calling on other governments to join Canada to obtain “the unconditional and immediate release of all prisoners of conscience”.
The Canadian embassy was “gravely concerned” by a new wave of arrests of human rights activists in the kingdom.
“We call on the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists,” the mission said in a statement posted on Twitter.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry has expressed its disapproval of the wording of the Embassy’s communiqué.
“It is very unfortunate that the words ‘immediate release’ are included in the Canadian release,” the ministry said. “It’s unacceptable in relations between two countries.”
On August 2, the head of Canadian diplomacy, Chrystia Freeland, said she was “very alarmed to learn of the imprisonment of Samar Badawi,” a women’s and men’s rights activist arrested last week with colleague Nassima al-Sadah.
“Insult to Islam”
Samar Badaoui is the recipient of the 2012 US State Department’s International Women’s Leadership Award.
She campaigned for the release of her brother, Raef al-Badaoui, a dissident blogger, and Walid Abu al-Khair, her ex-husband.
A Saudi citizen, Raef al-Badawi has been imprisoned since 2012 because of comments made on his blog. He was sentenced in November 2014 to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam”.
Raef al-Badaoui’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, has been living in Quebec since the fall of 2013 with her three children.
Last April, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself told the Saudi Prince of “his important and consistent concerns” about the imprisoned blogger.
The arrests of Samar Badaoui and his colleague came a few weeks after those of a dozen women’s rights activists, accused of undermining national security and collaborating with the enemies of the state.
Some have since been released.
Like Ms. Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah is a long-time opponent of Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system, which puts women under the authority of men when it comes to studying, traveling or marry.
The young Saudi Crown Prince recently introduced a series of reforms, such as driving licenses for women, aimed at restoring the often austere image of the kingdom as it prepares for reconversion after decades of “all-oil” .
At the same time, the 32-year-old leader is pursuing an aggressive foreign policy, for example calling for the blocking of his neighbor of Qatar or participating in bombing attacks against Houthi rebels backed in Yemen by his enemy and rival Iran. While locking any form of opposition in his own kingdom in order to establish his power.
“It’s easier to break ties with Canada than with other countries,” Bessma Momani of the University of Waterloo in Canada told AFP.
“There are no strong commercial ties, and attacking the Trudeau government may have some resonance after regional allies go to war in the region. Thousands of Saudi students in Canada may suffer. “