Saudi Arabia expels Canadian ambassador

AFP
Saudi Arabia said Monday it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and recalling its envoy while freezing all new trade.
AFP

Saudi Arabia said yesterday it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and had recalled its envoy while freezing all new trade, in protest at Ottawa’s vigorous calls for the release of jailed activists.

The kingdom gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country, in an abrupt rupture of relations over what it slammed as “interference” in its internal affairs.

The move, which underscores a newly aggressive foreign policy led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, comes after Canada demanded the immediate release of human rights campaigners swept up in a new crackdown.

“The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Saudi foreign ministry tweeted.

“The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador to Canada for consultation. We consider the Canadian ambassador to the kingdom persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours.”

The ministry also announced “the freezing of all new trade and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action.”

Canada last week said it was “gravely concerned” over a new wave of arrests of women and human rights campaigners in the kingdom, including award-winning gender rights activist Samar Badawi.

Samar was arrested along with fellow campaigner Nassima al-Sadah last week.

Samar is a vocal campaigner for blogger Raif Badawi, her brother who was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for “insulting Islam.”

The latest arrests come weeks after more than a dozen women’s right campaigners were detained and accused of undermining national security and collaborating with enemies of the state. Some have since been released.

The Saudi foreign ministry slammed the Canadian statement, signaling its growing irritation over criticism of the kingdom’s human rights record.

“Using the phrase ‘immediately release’ in the Canadian statement is very unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable in relations between states,” the ministry tweeted.

Prince Mohammed, heir to the region’s most powerful throne, has introduced a string of reforms such as lifting a decades-long ban on women drivers in a bid to overhaul the kingdom’s austere image as it prepares for a post-oil era.

But the 32-year-old has simultaneously pursued a hawkish foreign policy — including leading a blockade of neighboring Qatar and a bombing campaign against Huthi rebels in Yemen.

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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