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Saudi Arabia expels Canadian ambassador after Canada questions arrest of Saudi dissidents

Former first lady Michelle Obama (left) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pose with Samar Badawi of Saudi Arabia as she receives the 2012 International Women of Courage Award during a ceremony at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2012. The Canadian government criticized Saudi Arabia for arresting Badawi, and Saudi Arabia responded by expelling its Canadian ambassador. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia expelled Canada's ambassador after the Canadian government expressed concern about the arrest of Saudi women's rights and civil society activists, the Washington Post reported.

What happened?

On Monday, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry released a statement declaring Canadian Ambassador Dennis Horak to be “Persona-Non-Grata who must leave the Kingdom within the next 24 hours. The Kingdom will put on hold all new business and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action.”

The Saudi government has detained more than a dozen activists since May, according to the Post. Last week, two more activists were arrested, including Samar Badawi, who had received an International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. State Department in 2012, and Nassima al-Sadah. Badawi is a strong proponent of women's rights in Saudi Arabia, a nation where women were forbidden to drive until 2017. Badawi's brother is also imprisoned, but her brother's wife and their children are Canadian citizens living in Quebec.

On Thursday, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland tweeted that she was “[v]ery alarmed” to learn that Badawi had been “imprisoned in Saudi Arabia.”

Freeland added, “Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”

On Friday, the Canadian Foreign Ministry tweeted out that Canada was “gravely concerned about the 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.”

How did Saudi Arabia respond?

The statement from Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry called Canada's concern a “blatant interference in the Kingdom's domestic affairs, against basic international norms and all international protocols.” It added:

It is a major, unacceptable affront to the Kingdom's laws and judicial process, as well as a violation of the Kingdom's sovereignty....The Kingdom views the Canadian position as an affront to the Kingdom that requires a sharp response to prevent any party from attempting to meddle with Saudi sovereignty. It is quite unfortunate to see the phrase “immediate' release” in the Canadian statement, which is a reprehensible and unacceptable use of language between sovereign states.

The hold on all "new business and investment transactions" could have a significant impact on Canada, which exported more than $1 billion worth of products to Saudi Arabia last year alone.

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