Saudi Arabia expelling Canadian ambassador

Chrystia Freeland

Chrystia Freeland declared that'Canada stands together with the Badawi family

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.

The Saudi foreign ministry slammed the Canadian statement, signalling its growing irritation over Western criticism of the kingdom's poor human rights record.

Two-way merchandise trade between Canada and Saudi Arabia exceeded $4-billion a year ago, a significant portion of it from a controversial multibillion-dollar deal to sell combat vehicles equipped with machine guns and cannons to the Saudis.

Saudi Arabia said it was also freezing all new trade and investment transactions with Canada and "reserves its right to take further action".

Last week, authorities in Saudi Arabia detained two women's rights activists, broadening a campaign of arrests that has drawn worldwide criticism and tainted the kingdom's top-down agenda of change.

The move follows vigorous calls by Canada for the immediate release of activists that have been detained.

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

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The dispute appears to be over a tweet on Friday from Global Affairs Canada calling for Saudi Arabia to "immediately release" recently arrested activists and others.

Canada's government has so far made no public comments on Saudi Arabia's diplomatic measures. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, is now living in Canada. Canada also imports $2.6 billion in goods from Saudi Arabia, with the overwhelming majority being mineral products.

It isn't immediately clear what new business could be affected between the two countries.

Samar's brother Raif was arrested in 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for criticizing clerics.

The Globe and Mail reached Saudi ambassador Naif Bin Bandar al-Sudairi by telephone Sunday but he said he was out of the country and too busy to talk.

"We are seriously concerned by these media reports and are seeking greater clarity on the recent statement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia", said Marie-Pier Baril. "Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this hard time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi".

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.

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