Saudi Arabia expels Canadian envoy for urging activist's release

Raif Badawi

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.

Riyadh also suspended new trade and investment with Canada.

Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Ottawa and ordered the Canadian envoy to Riyadh to leave within 24 hours, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

"We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists", the Canadian embassy tweeted on Friday.

The ministry's statement came a day after Chrystia Freeland, Canada's minister of foreign affairs, called for both members of the Badawi family to be released.

In a statement issued by the Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry, Riyadh slams as "totally false" allegations by the Canadian authorities that recent arrests of several civil society activists were unwarranted. However, supporters of women's rights were arrested just weeks before the ban was lifted, signaling that only King Salman and his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will decide the pace of change.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs contended that those arrested were "lawfully detained", and accused Canada of a "blatant interference in the Kingdom's domestic affairs".

It said it will not accept any form of interference in its internal affairs and considers the Canadian position "an attack" requiring a firm stance to deter "attempts to undermine the sovereignty" of Saudi Arabia. "Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to worldwide diplomacy". She is a Canadian citizen whose brother Raif Badawi, a blogger who was critical of the Saudi government, was already in jail in the kingdom.

The overwhelming majority of its exports to Saudi Arabia are in vehicles and equipment, which included a controversial 15 billion Canadian dollar deal to sell more than 900 light armored vehicles to the Saudis.

Their arrest was the latest in a government crackdown on activists, clerics and journalists.

According to an archived government website, Saudi Arabia is now Canada's second largest export market in the region, receiving $1.4 billion in Canadian goods in 2017.

Saudi's Press Agency said the activists were arrested for seeking to "destabilize the Kingdom", though many remain in detention without charge, Human Rights Watch said.

In April, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his "serious concern" over the continued jailing of Badawi to Saudi King Salman.

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