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Saudi ambassador tells Trudeau government to stop raising blogger Raif Badawi's case

Ensaf Haidar holds a picture of her husband, Raif Badawi, after accepting a human rights prize on behalf of her husband, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Dec. 16, 2015.

PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Canada says Ottawa should mind its own business when it comes to the high-profile case of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for blasphemy.

At the same time, Ambassador Naif Alsudairy and his Egyptian and Emirati counterparts are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government to get involved in a continuing dispute with Qatar. A deadline is looming for the natural gas-rich Gulf country to comply with a list of demands from four Arab states – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – which includes closing the state-funded Al-Jazeera satellite news network and severing ties with terrorist organizations.

Mr. Alsudairy was joined by the Egyptian and Emirati ambassadors at a rare news conference at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Ottawa on Tuesday, where he was asked about Mr. Badawi's case.

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Related: Jailed Saudi blogger's children urge Trudeau to seek father's freedom

"It's a [Saudi] court decision we have to respect. We respect the court decisions here in Canada and we believe that the Canadian friends should respect the Saudi court decision."

Asked by reporters if Saudi Arabia was telling the Canadian government to mind its own business and stop pressing the Saudi government, Mr. Alsudairy said: "Absolutely right."

While Mr. Badawi is not Canadian, his case has a Canadian connection – his family lives in Sherbrooke, Que. Mr. Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, said she hopes Mr. Trudeau secures her husband's release at the G20 summit this week in Hamburg, Germany.

"He should take a real action … to bring Raif to his home in Canada," said Ms. Haidar, who is a permanent resident of Canada.

Amnesty International Canada Secretary General Alex Neve said the Saudi ambassador cannot expect respect when the court decision on Mr. Badawi's case was based on an unfair trial and violated international human-rights standards.

"Everything about Raif Badawi's case has violated human rights: his initial arrest, the charges laid, the nature of the trial and the cruelty of 1,000 lashes being part of the penalty. This does not deserve respect; it deserves justice," Mr. Neve said.

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Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's office said Canada has repeatedly raised Mr. Badawi's case at the highest levels and asked for clemency to be granted.

"We will continue to raise our concerns over his situation both in Riyadh and Ottawa," said Ms. Freeland's spokesman, Adam Austen.

"The promotion and protection of human rights – including the right to freedom of expression, conscience and religion – is an integral part of Canada's foreign policy."

The Saudi embassy held the news conference on Tuesday to address a regional dispute with Qatar, which it says stems from Doha's support for terrorist groups in the Gulf region. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar last month, closing their airspace to Qatar Airways, sealing off the country's only land border with Saudi Arabia and blocking its ships from using their ports.

The Saudi-led alliance recently imposed a 10-day deadline for Qatar to meet 13 demands, which Qatar rejected as a violation of its sovereignty. When the deadline expired on Sunday, Qatar was given another 48 hours to meet the demands before the four-country group meets in Cairo on Wednesday to discuss its next move. The ambassadors refused to speculate in advance what further steps may look like.

The ambassadors welcomed a statement Mr. Trudeau made after a conversation with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on June 21, in which he called for stability in the Gulf and outlined Canada's concern with the funding of terrorism. They called on the Liberal government to support the Arab alliance in pressuring Qatar.

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"We hope that [the] Prime Minister and his government will be more involved in this problem, and we believe that Canada should be playing a positive role in this issue supporting the four countries," Mr. Alsudairy said.

Ms. Freeland's office did not say whether Canada will step up its involvement in the Qatar dispute, rather encouraging all parties to work together to resolve it.

The Qatari embassy in Ottawa did not respond to The Globe's request for comment.

With a report from the Associated Press
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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Michelle Zilio is a reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau. Previously, she was the associate producer of CTV’s Question Period and a political writer for CTVNews.ca. Michelle has also worked as a parliamentary reporter for iPolitics, covering foreign affairs, defence and immigration, and as a city desk reporter at the Ottawa Citizen. More

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