Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada’s ambassador in Riyadh over what officials called “blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs,” state media said Sunday.
The Canadian ambassador has been declared a persona non grata and has been given 24 hours to leave the country, the Saudi Press Agency statement added.
According to a statement released to the official Saudi Press Agency by the Foreign Ministry, authorities gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country and recalled its own ambassador to Canada.
The Saudi ministry had been briefed that the Canadian foreign ministry and the Canadian embassy urged the Saudi authorities to “immediately release” civil rights activists, the ministry said.
Canadian foreign ministry officials were not available for an immediate comment on Sunday.
Last Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said Saudi Arabia had arrested women’s rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah, the latest two to be swept up in a government crackdown on activists, clerics and journalists.
More than a dozen women’s rights activists have been targeted since May.
On Friday, Canada said it was “gravely concerned” about the arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Badawi, the sister of jailed dissident blogger Raif Badawi.
“We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists,”
Global Affairs Canada said on its Twitter feed.
Raif Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar lives in Canada and recently became a Canadian citizen.
Most of those arrested campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the country’s male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.
The Saudi statement said it confirmed its commitment to refrain from intervening in the internal matters of other countries, including Canada, and in return rejected any intervention in its domestic affairs and internal relations with its citizens.
“Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs,” the statement said.
In 2014, the Canadian unit of U.S. weapons maker General Dynamics Corp (GD.N) won a contract worth up to 13 billion dollars to build light-armored vehicles for Saudi Arabia, in what Ottawa said at the time was the largest advanced manufacturing export win in Canadian history.