Saudi Arabia has issued a sharp rebuke to Canada for criticizing recent arrests of human rights and women’s activists.
The retaliation followed a statement posted on the Canadian Global Affairs Twitter account on Friday saying it was “gravely concerned” about “additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists,” and urging the Saudi government to release them.
The Saudi government replied with a statement calling Canada’s comments “a grave and unacceptable violation of the Kingdom’s laws and procedures.”
Women’s rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah were arrested last week, according to Human Rights Watch. Both women have campaigned to lift the Saudi driving ban and encourage the participation of women in politics.
“The arrests of Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah signal that the Saudi authorities see any peaceful dissent, whether past or present, as a threat to their autocratic rule,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. “After the recent arbitrary arrests of businesspeople, women’s rights activists, and reformist clerics, Saudi Arabia’s allies and partners should question what ‘reform’ really means in a country where the rule of law is disdainfully ignored.”
Despite a campaign to modernize the country and expand freedoms to women, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has cracked down on activists since he was appointed last year.
The government began detaining people linked to the end of the driving ban on women in May, just weeks before the ban was lifted.
“The situation is bad and people are too scared to communicate with each other. Everyone is nervous and everyone is worried,” an activist told the Financial Times in May. “Those I’m in touch with tell me they already have their suitcases ready.”