Canada is refusing to stay quiet about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland once again publicly voicing concern about a jailed woman’s rights activist in that country, despite an ongoing diplomatic spat and sanctions launched by Riyadh earlier this month.
Canada has joined a chorus of human rights activists who have been speaking out about Israa al-Ghomgham, and five other activists who are being tried by Saudi’s terrorism tribunal. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for five of them. They are accused of participating in protests, inciting protest, chanting slogans hostile to the regime, attempting to inflame public opinion, filming protests and publishing on social media and providing moral support to rioters, according to Human Rights Watch.
In response to a request for comment, Freeland’s office said Canada is “extremely concerned” by the arrests and that the concerns had been raised with the Saudi government.
“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world,” said the statement.
The statement did not, however, include a call to “immediately release” al-Ghomgham. According to the Saudi government, that phrase, used in earlier statements, is what prompted the country to take a number of political and economic retaliatory measures against Canada, which it accused of interfering in its domestic affairs.
In a sudden and unexpected escalation of the disagreement, Saudi Arabia kicked Canada’s ambassador out of the country, froze all new trade and business with Canada, started the process of withdrawing 16,000 Saudi-sponsored students and Saudi nationals getting medical treatment in Canada, and suspended Saudi Arabian Airlines flights to Toronto. The Saudi central bank and state pension funds also directed asset managers overseas to sell off their Canadian equities, bonds and cash holdings “no matter the cost.”
Cover of a composite image of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmen (L, Paris, France, 10 April 2018) and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (R, Washington, USA, 16 August 2017), issued 08 August 2018. Photo by Yoan Valat/Michael Reynolds/EPA