Saudi Arabia’s retaliation against Canada: clear indication that international community must increase the pressure for real human rights reforms

Responding to Saudi Arabia’s announcement, on August 5th, of diplomatic and trade measures against Canada, in retaliation for recent Canadian government calls for prisoners of conscience to be freed in the country, Amnesty International Canada said the aggressive action points to an urgent need for greater international pressure for genuine and lasting human rights reform in Saudi Arabia.
Measures announced include the recall of Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador from Canada, a demand that Canada’s Ambassador leave Saudi Arabia within 24 hours and a suspension of new trade and investment.  Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry accused Canada of “overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs” of the country.  The move came following a tweet three days earlier from Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, indicating that Canada was, “Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. 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.”
Amnesty International had also publicly called on Saudi officials to immediately and unconditionally release Samar Badawi, as well as Nassima al-Sada, two prominent women human rights defenders who had been arrested last week.  Their detention comes amidst a growing number of arrests of leading women’s rights activists and other human rights defenders since May of this year. Samar Badawi is also the sister of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi.  Amnesty International considers Raif Badawi to be a prisoner of conscience and has been campaigning for his freedom since his arrest in 2012.  Raif Badawi’s wife and three children live in Canada, having arrived in the country as refugees in 2014 and recently granted citizenship.  The Canadian government has, on that basis, frequently pressed for Mr. Badawi to be freed.
“The only thing that is ‘overt and blatant’ is the degree to which this action by the Saudi government shows utter disregard and contempt for the very premise of the international human rights system,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch.  “Minister Freeland’s tweet was by no means interference in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs. It was a defence of universal human rights agreed to globally and binding on Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia’s response should be to end its crackdown on human rights activists and free the women human rights defenders and all other prisoners of conscience, not to lash out with punitive diplomatic and trade sanctions.”
“Canada’s call for freedom for Samar and Raif Badawi is laudable and so very important, particularly given the degree to which the international community far too often responds to Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record with silence and inaction,” said Geneviève Paul, Director General of Amnesty International Canada’s Francophone Branch. “Some governments and other observers have suggested that Saudi Arabia may be prepared to improve its human rights record. This move points to exactly the opposite. Now is the time for other governments to join Canada in increasing the pressure for genuine, lasting human rights reforms in Saudi Arabia.”
 For further information, please contact Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations, cell  416-904-7158