In a move which could be described as questionable at best, and utterly mad at worst, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has expelled the Canadian ambassador, recalled its own ambassador, and frozen all new trade deals with the North American nation over what it calls interference in its domestic affairs.
Canadian Ambassador Dennis Horak was given 24 hours to leave the country according to the Saudi Press Agency on Monday, August 6th.
The row began when the Canadian Foreign Ministry issued a mild rebuke over the Saudi’s arrest and jailing of human rights activists. Canada had called for the release of rights campaigners detained in Saudi Arabia which included relatives of naturalised Canadian citizens.
The Canadian foreign ministry had stated in an official tweet: “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists.”
The Saudi ministry of foreign affairs called Canada’s actions an “affront” which required a “sharp response”. It also stated that “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has never accepted any interference in its domestic affairs by, or orders from, any country.”
In May, Human rights groups said at least 11 people, most of them women who had long campaigned for the right to drive, were detained in a widening crackdown on human rights activists. Saudi officials said at the time that the persons arrested had “suspicious contact with foreign parties” and undermining “stability”. Activists called the crackdown “unprecedented” and “shocking”.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said at least 15 human rights defenders and women’s rights activists critical of the Saudi government had been arrested or detained arbitrarily since 15 May.
Who is Samar Badawi?
Samar Badawi is a Saudi Arabian-American human rights activist who had been physically abused by her father for 15 years. Badawi and her father had filed court cases against one another. The father accused her of disobedience under the Saudi Arabia’s controversial male guardianship law and she charged her father with adhl, which means refusing to allow her to marry.
Badawi was imprisoned under a warrant relating to the disobedience charge in April 2010, and then released in October 2010 after a local and international support campaign. Her guardianship was transferred to an uncle. The Saudi Arabian NGO Human Rights First Society described Badawi’s imprisonment as “outrageous illegal detention”.
According to Human Rights Watch, Badawi, along with other activists, were arrested by Saudi authorities on July 30th.
According to a press release from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, among those reportedly being held since the crackdown in May are Hatoon al-Fassi, a leading voice for women’s participation in civil life; human rights defender Khaled al-Omair; women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Nouf Abdulaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani; Ms Hathloul’s 80-year-old lawyer, Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh; and the activist Abdulaziz Meshaal.
Several of those detained have been accused of serious crimes, including “suspicious contact with foreign parties”, and could face up to 20 years in prison. Pro-government newspapers and social media accounts branded them “traitors”.
A Spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on the subject on July 31st, the statement read: “We urge the Government of Saudi Arabia to unconditionally release all human rights defenders and activists who have been detained for their peaceful human rights work, including their decades-long campaigns for the lifting of the driving ban for women. Any investigations must be held in a transparent manner, with full respect for due process rights. All human rights defenders should be able to carry out their crucial human rights work without fear of reprisals or prosecution.”
Canadian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marie-Pier Baril stressed that Canada would “always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world”. All of which Saudi Arabia notoriously denies its own citizens according to every credible human rights organization from Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch.
Saudi Arabia’s Threat
The Saudi foreign ministry took to twitter to threaten Canada. The tweet read “Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from Canada, means that we are allowed to interfere in Canada’s internal affairs.”
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia continues leading a controversial coalition in a war against Houthi Rebels in Yemen which has caused alarm around the world for the brutality of the tactics employed by the Saudi led coalition which has been described as indiscriminate. Bombing hospitals, schools, funerals, and weddings. According to the U.N. and other sources, from March 2015 to December 2017, 8,670-13,600 people have been killed in Yemen, including more than 5,200 civilians, as well as estimates of more than 50,000 dead as a result of ongoing famine due to the war and coalition interference in humanitarian aid shipments.
Saudis and Canadians take to Twitter
BuzzFeed news reported a massive upsurge in Saudi twitter trolls supporting independence for Quebec and indigenous rights in Canada. One intellectually obtuse Saudi citizen took to twitter to express his opinion the matter, saying: “In Saudi Arabia we feel worried about Canada committing cultural genocide against Indigenous people. We also support the right of Quebec to become an independent nation.”
Anyone who thought Canadians were overly polite, non-confrontational push overs has clearly never seen a game of Ice Hockey. Canadians have taken to Twitter in response to the Saudi trolls with sharp criticisms of their own. One poster replied to the post above stating that “At least Canada is working towards achieving equality to every single individual in Canada. Unlike Saudi Arabia, where people are actually arrested for defending human rights. I’ve never seen a Canadian refugee in Saudi but I have met a bunch of Saudi refugees in Canada.”