|Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Canada and Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion.|
'If we asked Canada to send...a Canadian citizen, in Canadian jail, to Saudi Arabia, do you accept that?' the Saudi ambassador asks.
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016 12:00 AM. Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Canada shot down a call from Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion to release imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi and allow him to join his family in Canada, saying Mr. Badawi’s case had nothing to do with relations between the two countries.
Mr. Dion (Saint-Laurent, Que.) told reporters on Oct. 18 that it would be “unacceptable” for Mr. Badawi to be flogged by Saudi authorities, following reports that another round of the punishment could be meted out against the Saudi national soon.
Mr. Badawi was arrested in 2012 on charges of insulting Islam through his blog, and sentenced to 10 years in prison, a hefty fine, and 1,000 lashes. The first 50 lashes were delivered in January 2015, causing outcry in many Western countries over both the form of the punishment and what Amnesty International and others called a crackdown on free expression.
Mr. Badawi’s wife and children were given asylum in Canada.
Evelyne Abitbol, who runs the Montreal-based Raif Badawi Foundation, told the Canadian Press last week she feared Mr. Badawi could soon be subjected to another round of lashes as part of his sentence. The remainder of the 1,000 lashes has been put off several times. Ms. Abitbol told the new agency her fear was based on information from a “private source,” the same source who alerted Mr. Badawi’s loved ones to the lashes beginning in 2015.
Mr. Dion told the press in the foyer of the House of Commons that he condemned flogging as a form of punishment, and that another round of the punishment would be unacceptable. He said he insisted that the Saudi government show clemency to Mr. Badawi, and allow him to join his family in Canada.
Mr. Dion noted that since Mr. Badawi is not a Canadian, the government was treating his plight as a humanitarian case, not a consular one. Government officials in the past have suggested that means their hands are to a certain extent tied.
In an interview Oct. 20, Saudi Ambassador Naif Bin Bandir AlSudairy said he had no information about whether Mr. Badawi would soon be subjected to more flogging.
“Mr. Badawi is a Saudi citizen, [and] has nothing to do with the relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia,” he said.
|Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes for blasphemy.|
He then confirmed that his government was not considering letting Mr. Badawi come to Canada.
When asked to respond to Mr. AlSudairy’s comments, and whether more flogging would harm bilateral relations, Mr. Dion’s office said his position on the matter had not changed since he spoke on the 18th.
Managing relations with Saudi Arabia is a difficult task for Mr. Dion. His government has often publicly touted the value of maintaining diplomatic ties with all countries, even those at odds with Canada or those with poor human rights records.
The Liberal government has faced strong criticism for approving a sale of armoured vehicles by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada to the Saudi National Guard. Amnesty International and others warn the vehicles could be used against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia or in neighbouring Yemen.
Throughout the controversy, the Saudi Embassy in Canada has done its best to maintain relations with Mr. Dion and open up somewhat to the political press, including by inviting the foreign minister and some journalists to the ambassador’s residence for dinner in March.
Mr. AlSudairy said he didn’t know whether another round of punishment to Mr. Badawi would harm bilateral relations.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.) said he agreed with Mr. Dion’s position on Mr. Badawi’s release.
Canada’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is “complicated,” he said, calling the country an ally in the fight against the militant group known as Daesh and ISIS, and a trading partner.
He said Mr. Dion should “speak out” for Mr. Badawi’s release, and use an upcoming vote on Saudi Arabia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council as leverage to help secure his release.
Source: The Hill Times, October 26, 2016
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