'Blatant Interference:' Why Saudi Arabia Just Expelled Canada's Ambassador to the Kingdom

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

Saudi Arabia suspended diplomatic ties and new trade dealings with Canada in response to Canada's call for the release of women's rights activists - a dramatic escalation that highlights the kingdom's increasingly assertive foreign policy under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry also said it would freeze "all new business" between the kingdom and Canada.

The move came after Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland urged Saudi authorities to release from prison human rights activist Samar Badawi, the sister of Saudi activist and writer Raif Badawi, who is now serving out a prison sentence.

"We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists", the tweet said.

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

"Using the phrase 'immediately release" in the Canadian statement is very unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable in relations between states, ' the ministry tweeted.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry cited remarks last week by Freeland and the Canadian embassy in Riyadh, criticizing the arrests of women's rights activists including Samar Badawi.

Badawi and another high-profile Saudi women's rights activist, Nassima al-Sadah, were arrested in the kingdom last week, sparking an worldwide outcry.

The human rights group's Middle East research director described the arrests as part of a larger crackdown on human rights in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi ministry described Canada's criticism of the arrests as "blatant interference in the kingdom's domestic affairs, against basic global norms and all worldwide protocols" and a "major, unacceptable affront to the kingdom's laws and judicial process, as well as a violation of the kingdom's sovereignty".

It said it will not accept any form of interference in its internal affairs and considers the Canadian position "an attack" requiring a firm stance to deter "attempts to undermine the sovereignty" of Saudi Arabia. Some 10 % of Canadian crude oil imports come from Saudi Arabia.

Badawi was arrested along with fellow activist Nassima al-Sadah last week.

She is a Canadian citizen whose brother Reif Badawi, a blogger who was critical of the Saudi government, was already in jail in the kingdom. It must be noted that Raif Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar lives in Canada itself and recently acquired the Canadian citizenship. Many others are banned from traveling outside the kingdom.

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.

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