Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Canada and gave the Canadian envoy 24 hours to leave the country in response to Ottawa’s statements in defense of human rights activists detained in the kingdom.
Starting Monday Saudi Arabia’s state airline suspended flights to and from Toronto, Canada’s largest city as the rift with Canada grew following the latter’s call to free arrested civil society activists in Riyadh.
This came shortly after the United States intervened in the dispute between the two countries, asking the Saudi government about details on the detention of the activists:
“We have asked the government of Saudi Arabia for additional information on the detention of several activists. We continue to encourage the government of Saudi Arabia to respect due process and to publicize information on the status of legal cases,” a State Department official stated, calling both Riyadh and Ottawa “close allies.”
Also on Monday, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland responded to the kingdom ousting the Canadian ambassador and freezing trade and investment.
“We are deeply concerned that Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada’s ambassador in response to Canadian statements in defense of human rights activists detained in the kingdom. Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world. We will never hesitate to promote these values and we believe that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy,” the statement read.
Over the weekend, the Saudi Foreign Ministry tweeted out a statement reacting to the Canadian statement, calling for “immediate release” of activists,” and branded it as “overt and blatant interference” in the country’s internal affairs.
The ministry further announced a decision to halt fresh trade ties with Ottawa and to banish the Canadian ambassador from the country.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recalls the Ambassador of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in Canada back to Riyadh for consultations and considers the Canadian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia as a Persona-Non-Grata who must leave the Kingdom within next 24 hours,” the statement read.
In a parallel development, Saudi state television reported that the Education Ministry was devising an “urgent plan” to suspend exchange programs with Canada and move Saudi scholarship recipients to other countries.