Saudi Arabia reacted Monday to Canada’s call for the Middle Eastern country to release jailed civil rights activists by expelling the Canadian ambassador and freezing new trade with Canada.
“The persons referred to were lawfully detained by the Public Prosecution for committing crimes punishable by applicable law,” according to a statement by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The Canadian statement is a blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs, against basic international norms and all international protocols.”
At least seven civil rights activists are detained by the Saudi Arabian government, and some are “accused of serious crimes, including ‘suspicious contact with foreign parties,'” a charge that carries up to 20 years of prison time, reported BBC.
Activist Samar Badawi, who received the International Women of Courage award from the U.S. State Department in 2012, was arrested in late July. Her brother, blogger Raif Badawi, is also being held and was first arrested in 2012 by the Saudi Arabian government.
Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, is a Saudi Arabian activist who lives in Canada and became a Canadian citizen on July 1.
“Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia,” Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland wrote on Twitter Thursday. “Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”
Canada’s foreign policy department called for Saudi Arabia to release political prisoners on Twitter Friday. (RELATED: Saudi Arabia Lifts Ban On Women Driving)
“Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi,” read the post. “We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists.”
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