Canada in diplomatic talks with Saudi Arabia

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government is engaging diplomatically with Saudi Arabia after recent row.

Elad Benari ,

Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that his government is engaging diplomatically with Saudi Arabia, Reuters reported, though he did not back down on his concerns about human rights in the kingdom.

“We continue to engage diplomatically with Saudi Arabia, I think it’s important to have positive relationships with countries around the world,” Trudeau told reporters after Cabinet meetings in British Columbia.

Trudeau was responding to a question on reports that Saudi Arabia’s prosecutor is seeking the death penalty against rights activists.

“At the same time - we have expressed our concern with the sentence handed down by Saudi Arabia, our concern for defending human rights and our shared values all around the world,” he added.

Saudi Arabia earlier this month announced it had suspended new trade and investment with Canada, gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country and recalled its own ambassador to Canada, after the Canadian foreign ministry urged Riyadh to release arrested civil rights activists.

Saudi Arabian Airlines later announced it would be suspending flights to and from Toronto amid the kingdom’s diplomatic row with Canada.

The Saudi move came two days after Global Affairs Canada issued a statement criticizing the arrest of Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi. Samar Badawi is the sister-in-law of Raif Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Canada and recently became a Canadian citizen.

Raif Badawi is serving a 10-year sentence after being convicted of insulting Islam and breaking Saudi Arabia's technology laws with his liberal blog. He also was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, spread over 20 installments, and fined $266,000.

Saudi Arabia's supreme court in 2015 upheld the sentence against Badawi, who ran a website called Free Saudi Liberals and has been in custody since 2012.

In a slight reprieve, five Canadian universities said on Wednesday that Saudi trainee doctors enrolled in their programs had been granted an extra three weeks in the country, as nearly 1,000 people scramble to wrap up their affairs.