Saudi Arabia has asked Canada’s ambassador to leave the country within 24 hours, just two days after Canada criticized the arrest of women’s rights and other civil society activists in the Arab kingdom.
In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Canada of making “false” statements and interfering with Saudi internal affairs, and said ambassador Dennis Horak was no longer welcome in the country. It added that the Saudi ambassador to Ottawa was summoned back to the kingdom for consultations.
Saudi Arabia will also freeze all new trade and investment transactions with Canada.
Global Affairs Canada and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had issued statements late last week calling for the release of Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed dissident blogger Raif Badawi, who was arrested in Saudi Arabia.
Samar Badawi is the sister-in-law of Raif Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Quebec and recently became a Canadian citizen.
On Sunday, the Canadian embassy in Saudi Arabia tweeted a similar statement, this time in Arabic.
The Saudi retaliation came hours after.
In its statement, the Saudi foreign ministry said it rejected Canada’s characterization of the arrests in Saudi Arabia, and said it wouldn’t stand for outside intervention.
“The persons referred to were lawfully detained by the public prosecution for committing crimes punishable by applicable law, which also guaranteed the detainees’ rights and provided them with due process during the investigation and trial,” read the statement, seemingly referring to Samar Badawi and another prominent female activist, Nassima al-Sada.
It added that Canada’s criticism represented “blatant interference” in Saudi affairs, accusing Canada of violating “basic international norms and all international protocols” in its stand.
On trade, the statement said Saudi Arabia will “put on hold all new business and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action.”
Canada in 2011 won an $11 billion contract to build light-armoured vehicles for Saudi Arabia, in what Ottawa hailed at the time as a major advanced manufacturing export win for Canada.
The Saudi statement concluded with a message to Canada and other countries, stating that all nations ” need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the Kingdom over its own citizens.”
Canadian foreign ministry officials are yet to comment.
Amnesty International said the arrests of Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada were part of a wider crackdown on human rights in Saudi Arabia.
“These brave women represented the last vestiges of the human rights community in the country, and now they too have been detained,” Amnesty International’s Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf said in a statement.
More than a dozen women’s rights activists have been targeted since May.