Saudi Arabia has demanded an apology from Canada for calling for the release of Saudi women’s rights activists and that Canada stops treating the kingdom as “a banana republic” if it wants to resolve an ongoing diplomatic dispute.
“We don’t want to be a political football in Canada’s domestic politics. Find another ball to play with,” said Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Wednesday night at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.
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“It’s very easy to fix. Apologise and say you made a mistake.”
In August, Saudi Arabia froze new trade with Canada, blocked grain imports, expelled Canada’s ambassador, and ordered all Saudi students home after Ottawa called for the release of activists detained for urging more rights for women in the kingdom.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said earlier this week she hoped to meet al-Jubeir on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the dispute. That meeting never happened.
The Saudi foreign minister called Canada’s criticism of the activists’ arrests “outrageous”.
“We demand the immediate release and independence of Quebec, granting of equal rights to Canadian Indians… You can sit down and talk about it, but demand the immediate release [of the Saudis]? What are we, a banana republic? Would any country accept it? No! We don’t.”
Canada’s ministry of foreign affairs had said in a tweet it was “gravely concerned” about the detention of activists in the kingdom, including Samar Badawi.
Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.
— Foreign Policy CAN (@CanadaFP) August 3, 2018
Samar is the sister of Raif Badawi, a prominent human rights campaigner sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014 on charges of insulting Islam. His wife and children are naturalised Canadian citizens.
Freeland said on Tuesday Ottawa would not be changing its position.
“Canada will always stand up for human rights… We feel a particular obligation to women who are fighting for their rights around the world,” she said. “And we feel a particular obligation to people who have a personal connection to Canada.”
A number of women’s rights activists – who campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system – have been targeted.
Germany and Saudi Arabia agreed earlier this week to end a diplomatic dispute. Their spat started last November when Germany’s foreign minister at the time, Sigmar Gabriel, condemned “adventurism” in the Middle East, comments seen as an attack on increasingly assertive Saudi policies, notably its air campaign in Yemen.