Saudi Arabia expels Canadian ambassador, freezes business

Anwar Gargash

Saudi Arabia freezes all trade investment in Canada - Saudi Press Agency

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW), described Saudi Arabia's move as a "petulant fit in response to what are in fact basic, reasonable demands from Canada calling for the release of detained political activists".

Saudi Arabia took this firm stance following Canada's statement about "civil society activists" that was negative and baseless.

The kingdom gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country, in an abrupt rupture of relations over what it slammed as "interference" in its internal affairs.

And it says any other attempt to "interfere with our internal affairs" by Canada will mean Saudi Arabia will be allowed to interfere in Canada's internal affairs.

"The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador.to Canada for consultation", it added.

The move was in response to calls by Canada for the release of human rights activists arrested in a recent crackdown.

"We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists", the Canadian embassy tweeted on Friday. Some have since been released.

The UN has also voiced concern over the widening clampdown on opposition in Saudi Arabia, its human rights office (OHCHR) calling the spate of arrests that has been ongoing since spring "apparently arbitrary detentions". More than a dozen women's rights activists have been targeted since May.

But the 32-year-old has simultaneously pursued a hawkish foreign policy - including leading a blockade of neighbouring Qatar and a bombing campaign against Iran-backed Huthis in Yemen - while cracking down on dissent at home.

Jackie Hansen, a gender rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada, said last Thursday that the circumstances of the arrests were still unclear and there's no news of any charges.

An English version of the Saudi government's statement said Ms. Freeland and the Canadian government are wrong to criticize the kingdom. Samar Badawi is the sister-in-law of Raif Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Canada and recently became a Canadian citizen.

The Canadian envoy in Riyadh is no longer welcome.

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