Canadian ambassador expelled as relations with Saudi Arabia rapidly deteriorate

7 August 2018

Canadian ambassador expelled as relations with Saudi Arabia rapidly deteriorate

Canadian ambassador Denis Horak has been expelled from Saudi Arabia after Canada called for the release of human rights activists.

Saudi Arabia has also frozen all trade with Canada and its state airline has suspended direct flights to Toronto in response to Canada’s perceived “interference”.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said she is “deeply concerned” by the Ambassador’s expulsion, but affirmed that “Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world.”

“We will never hesitate to promote these values and we believe that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy,” she said.

Among those detained are Saudi-American human rights campaigner Samar Badawi, who was arrested last week, along with fellow women’s rights campaigner Nassima al-Sadah.

Ms Badawi was given the US International Women of Courage Award in 2012, and is a prominent critic of Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system.

Her brother Raif Badawi was convicted in 2013 for, among other things, insulting Islam online and renouncing his faith. Raif Badawi was eventually sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and 1,000 lashes, and fined.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least 15 human rights activists have been arbitrarily arrested or detained since 15 May this year.

Eight are understood to have been released, but the whereabouts of the remaining seven are unknown.

Several of those detained could face up to 20 years imprisonment for serious crimes, including “suspicious contact with foreign parties.”

Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Ms Freeland’s Saudi counterpart, tweeted that: “The Kingdom does not interfere in the affairs of other States and will not accept any attempt to interfere in its internal affairs” adding that the “Canadian position is based on misleading information, and the detention of these persons is subject to our judicial systems which guarantee their rights.”

Saudi women’s rights campaigner Manal al-Sharif tweeted her thanks to Canada for “speaking up” and asked when the United States, United Kingdom and European Union would do the same.

Saudi youth technology organisation Infographic KSA has apologised for tweeting an image that showed an Air Canada plane heading toward Toronto’s iconic CN Tower, reminiscent of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

“As the Arabic saying goes: ‘He who interferes with what doesn’t concern him finds what doesn’t please him’”, reads the caption superimposed over the image.

The Infographic KSA account has over 350,000 followers and has a history of posting tweets in support of the Saudi Government.

In apologising the account operators said it was “intended to symbolise the return of the Ambassador” and was not intended to be a threat.

The tweet and account have since been deleted, reportedly due to an order from the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information.

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