Saudi Arabia has frozen all new trade with Canada and expelled the country’s ambassador, following calls from Ottawa to free jailed activists.
On Sunday, the Gulf kingdom gave the ambassador 24 hours to leave the country, condemning Canada for “interference” in its internal affairs after the Canadian foreign office urged the immediate release of human rights activists via a tweet last week.
Canada’s foreign office social media channel voiced concerns about “additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists” in Saudi Arabia, and urged immediate release of them all.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign office responded on Sunday in a tweet: “The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
The department announced “the freezing of all new trade and investment transactions between the KSA and Canada”, reserving the “right to take further action”. Canada’s imports from Saudi Arabia come to more than $2bn while it exports around $1.1bn.
“The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador to Canada for consultation. We consider the Canadian ambassador to the kingdom persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours,” it said.
In a statement, Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said: “We are deeply concerned that Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada’s ambassador in response to Canadian statements in defence of human rights activists detained in the kingdom.
“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world. We will never hesitate to promote these values and we believe that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy,” she added.
The sanctions are the latest of several instances of Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman taking a hard line on criticism from abroad.
Last year, the kingdom recalled its ambassador in Germany after the German foreign minister criticised its military intervention in Yemen. The Saudi government called his words “shameful and unjustified”.