Saudis expel Canadian envoy, freeze new trade deals over tweets about rights activist

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has expelled the Canadian ambassador and frozen all new trade and investment deals after the country’s Foreign Ministry criticized human-rights violations in the Islamic kingdom.

In a statement released Sunday, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Canadian Ambassador Dennis Horak must leave the country “within the next 24 hours” and recalled its own envoy to Canada.
“The Kingdom views the Canadian position as an affront that requires a sharp response to prevent any party from attempting to meddle with Saudi sovereignty,” read the statement, adding that it retained the “right to take further action.”
According to Bahrain’s official news agency, Bahrain, a staunch Saudi ally, said it backed the move in a statement on Monday and  the country’s foreign ministry slammed what it called “unacceptable intervention in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,”
The statement follows a series of tweets from the Canadian Foreign Ministry last week urging the Saudi authorities to “immediately release” civil-rights activists.
A recent Saudi government crackdown has seen a number of high-profile activists detained, including women’s rights campaigner Samar Badawi, whose brother Raif has been behind bars since 2012 and is sentenced to receive 1,000 lashes.
According to Human Rights Watch, Badawi was arrested on August 1 as part of an “unprecedented government crackdown on the women’s rights movement that began on May 15, 2018 and has resulted in the arrest of more than a dozen activists.”
In a tweet Thursday, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that she was “very alarmed” to learn of Badawi’s arrest and that “Canada stands together with the Badawi family.”
On Friday, the Canadian government’s official foreign policy account followed up, tweeting that “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.”
Samar Badawi is one of the most high-profile women’s rights activists in Saudia Arabia, a country governed by a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam that limits the roles women can take in society.
Women were only recently granted the right to drive and are required to get the approval from a male guardian for most basic activities.
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama presented Badawi with the US’ International Women of Courage Award in 2012 for her advocacy work.
Badawi previously served seven months in jail in 2010 for disobeying her father, who she said had physically abused her from the age of 14 after her mother died of cancer.
The statement released by the Saudi Foreign Ministry on Sunday accused the Canadian government of “blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs.”
“The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed disbelief by this negative unfounded comment, which was not based in any accurate or true information,” the statement read.
“It is quite unfortunate to see the phrase ‘immediate release’ in the Canadian statement, which is a reprehensible and unacceptable use of language between sovereign states.”
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said those arrested 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.”
The statement added that “the Kingdom will put on hold all new business and investment transactions with Canada.”
According to the Canadian government.Trade between the two countries exceeded 4 billion Canadian dollars ($3 billion) last year