Saudi Arabia has demanded an apology from Canada for calling for the release of Saudi women’s rights activists, and for treating the kingdom as “a banana republic”.
Canada and Saudi Arabia are locked in a diplomatic dispute, triggered by Canadian criticism of the Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir took the dispute to the United Nations, where he said Riyadh refuses to be lectured to over human rights.
He was referring to a tweet last month by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who urged the release of two rights activist women.
“It is outrageous from our perspective that a country will sit there and lecture us and make demands. ‘We demand the immediate release’… Really?” said Jubeir at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Wednesday night.
He sarcastically equated Ottawa’s demand from the kingdom to a call by Riyadh for “the immediate release and independence of Quebec, granting of equal rights to Canadian Indians.”
“You can criticize us about human rights, women’s rights … others do and that’s your right. You can sit down and talk about it, but demand the immediate release? What are we a banana republic? Would any country accept it? No! We don’t,” Jubeir added.
Jubeir further said that his country would not “want to be a political football in Canada’s domestic politics. Find another ball to play with. It’s very easy to fix. Apologize and say you made a mistake.”
Canada’s foreign minister, however, stressed on Tuesday that her country would not be changing its fundamental position, saying, “Canada will always stand up for human rights.”
Saudi authorities arrested the internationally recognized women’s rights activist Samar Badawi and an Eastern Province activist, Nassima al-Sadah, in July. They had been campaigning for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system in recent months.
They were “the latest victims of an unprecedented government crackdown on the women’s rights movement that began on May 15, 2018 and has resulted in the arrest of more than a dozen activists,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
Amnesty International and the HRW warned in August about the situation of the women, saying the Saudi regime is seeking to impose the death penalty against some of the imprisoned women. The Amnesty International called on Riyadh to “end its crackdown” rather than “lash out with punitive diplomatic and trade sanctions.”
The diplomatic dispute between Canada and Saudi Arabia escalated in August, with Riyadh freezing new trade with Ottawa, blocking grain imports, expelling Canada’s ambassador and ordering all Saudi students home after Canada.