Canada ‘Comfortable’ with Position on Human Rights Situation in Saudi

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – In the wake of Saudi Arabia’s expulsion of Canada’s ambassador, the kingdom has suspended scholarships for about 16,000 Saudi students studying there and ordered them to attend schools elsewhere.

Canada ‘Comfortable’ with Position on Human Rights Situation in Saudi

It is the latest in a war of words between the Saudi regime and Canada over human rights, a dispute that began with a tweet Thursday from Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

On Monday, speaking to reporters in Vancouver, Freeland said Canada is “very comfortable” with its position that led to the new measures announced by Saudi Arabia, The Star reported.

“We are always going to speak up for human rights, we are always going to speak up for women’s rights and that is not going to change.”

Freeland said Canadians “expect” its foreign policy to be driven by Canadian values.

According to a report out of Riyadh from Saudi-owned media outlet Al Arabiya, “training, scholarships and fellowships” for Saudi students in Canada are being shelved.

“I’m concerned about those students, but we still need to stand by our position that we support human rights in the world,” Bessma Momani, an expert on Middle East issues and a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, said in an interview Monday.

“I don’t think, understanding Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, that they’re going to climb down from this, so we’re at an impasse.”

Many of those students attending colleges and universities are in Canada through the King Abdullah scholarship program, which covers their tuition, flights and accommodations, as well as a stipend for living expenses, Momani explained.

A smaller cohort consists of Saudi doctors who are in Canada for specialization training administered by the Royal College of Physicians of Surgeons of Canada. Their costs are also covered by the kingdom.

Momani says the doctors, who have in the past returned to their own country to practice, work in 15 Canadian hospitals and serve about 20,000 Canadian patients.

She says the Saudi government is trying to make an “example out of Canada” by showing the world it doesn’t take comments critical of domestic Saudi affairs lightly, especially on human rights matters.

The dispute was sparked by tweets in which Canadian officials demanded the Saudis “immediately release” women’s rights activists being detained in the kingdom, including Samar Badawi. Her brother, Raif, was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam in his blogging.

Ensaf Haidar, his wife, was given Canadian citizenship last month.

“Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. 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,” Freeland tweeted Thursday.

Freeland issued a statement Monday in response to the expulsion of the Canadian ambassador. “We are deeply concerned that Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada’s ambassador in response to Canadian statements in defense 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.”

Freeland said the Canadian embassy in Riyadh, “continues its regular operations, including consular services.”

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