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Saudi Arabia expels Canadian ambassador for urging release of activists

Monday August 6, 2018

Activist Samar Badawi, pictured here in 2012 with Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, was arrested last week in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Gary Cameron/Reuters

Saudi Arabia has ordered the Canadian ambassador to leave the country and suspended new trade and investment with Ottawa after Canada’s foreign ministry urged Riyadh to release arrested civil rights activists.

A statement released by the Saudi Press Agency said the foreign ministry gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country and recalled its own ambassador to Canada, adding it retained “its rights to take further action”.

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“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia ... will not accept interference in its internal affairs or imposed diktats from any country,” the foreign ministry tweeted.

“The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador ... to Canada for consultation.”

“The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of #SaudiArabia and is in contravention of the most basic international norms and all the charters governing relations between States,” it tweeted.

The statement came after the Canadian foreign ministry and the Canadian embassy urged the Saudi authorities to “immediately release” civil rights activists.

“We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists,” the Canadian embassy tweeted on Friday.

Canadian foreign ministry officials were not available for an immediate comment on Sunday.

Last Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said Saudi Arabia had arrested women’s rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah, the latest two to be swept up in a government crackdown on activists, clerics and journalists. More than a dozen women’s rights activists have been targeted since May.

On Friday, Canada said it was “gravely concerned” about the arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Badawi, the sister of jailed dissident blogger Raif Badawi.

“We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists,” Global Affairs Canada said on its Twitter feed.

Raif Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar lives in Canada and recently became a Canadian citizen.

Most of those arrested campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the country’s male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.

The Saudi statement said it confirmed its commitment to refrain from intervening in the internal matters of other countries, including Canada, and in return rejected any intervention in its domestic affairs and internal relations with its citizens.

“Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs,” the statement said.

Reuters contributed to this report

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