Saudi Arabia expels Canadian ambassador, freezes trade in human rights row

Saudi Arabia expels Canadian ambassador, freezes trade in human rights row
The Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry has recalled its ambassador from Canada and given the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country. Riyadh is also freezing all new trade and investment deals with Canada.

The decision was reported by Saudi Arabia's official Saudi Press Agency. It is understood to be in response to Canada's statement of concern over the arrests of human rights activists in Saudi Arabia.

In a statement issued by the Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry, Riyadh dismissed as "totally false" allegations by the Canadian authorities that recent arrests of several civil society activists were unwarranted.

It said the arrests were made by "the competent authorities" and detainees were provided with all rights guaranteed during investigative and trial stages. The ministry denounced Canada’s stance as “explicit interference in the internal affairs” of the kingdom, which runs “contrary to the most basic international norms and charters that govern relations between countries.”

Besides putting on hold “all new trade and investment transactions with Canada,” the ministry said that the ultra-conservative kingdom, which has drawn stark criticism from human rights groups for its crackdown on dissent, “retains the right to take further action.”

On Friday, Canada called on Riyadh to “immediately release” civil and human rights activists recently arrested by the Saudi Arabian authorities, including Samar Badawi, an internationally recognized human rights defender. Badawi and another high-profile Saudi women's rights activist, Nassima al-Sadah, were arrested in the kingdom last week, sparking international outcry.

In 2012, Badawi received an international Women of Courage award in a ceremony in Washington from former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-First Lady Michelle Obama.

The UN has also voiced concern over the widening clampdown on opposition in Saudi Arabia, with its human rights office (OHCHR) calling the spate of arrests since spring “apparently arbitrary detentions.” Since May 15, at least 15 critics of the Saudi government have been detained, the office noted on Tuesday.

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