POLITICS

Quebec to continue to support Raif Badawi despite Saudi ambassador's criticism

04/01/2015 11:14 EDT | Updated 06/01/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - Quebec politicians insist they're staying the course in their efforts to see a jailed blogger freed even as the Saudi ambassador to Canada warns his country won't accept meddling in its internal affairs.

Naif Bin Bandir AlSudairy sent a letter to the Speaker of the national assembly last month regarding Raif Badawi, expressing his government's "strong surprise and dismay" at what is being said and written about the case.

Quebec politicians brushed off the comments Wednesday and said they remain committed to Badawi being reunited with his relatives in Quebec.

Badawi, 32, is not a Canadian citizen, but his wife and children fled Saudi Arabia in 2012 and settled in Sherbrooke in 2013.

Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said her government will continue to champion Badawi's cause as well as challenge other human rights abuses around the world.

"We want Raif Badawi to be released from prison and to be able to come here and live with his wife and his children," Weil said.

The March 10 letter, which was also sent to the federal government, is critical of attacks by media and international agencies on Saudi Arabia's human rights record.

"(The kingdom) does not accept any form of interference in its internal affairs and rejects the encroachment on its sovereign right or the compromising of its judiciary independence and integrity," the ambassador wrote.

Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and fined for criticizing Saudi Arabian clerics.

Badawi's detention and sentence have stirred up worldwide condemnation, with Quebec politicians unanimously adopting a motion in February calling for his immediate release.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also spoken out against Badawi's treatment, but has said Ottawa's influence is limited by the fact he is not a Canadian citizen.

The first 50 lashes were carried out in early January. The sentence has not been annulled but he has not been flogged again, said Amnesty International's Mireille Elchacar.

Badawi's case has been bouncing back and forth between various Saudi courts with his health still precarious.

Elchacar said the contents of the letter have constituted the standard Saudi response in recent weeks.

"It's exactly the same text that Saudi Arabia sent to all the states and all the organizations that commented on the Raif Badawi case," Elchacar said, adding that Saudi officials don't usually comment on such matters.

Weil declined to speculate on whether the Saudi reaction might be indicative of something else.

Parti Quebecois leadership candidate Bernard Drainville dismissed the comments.

"Human rights is the business of everyone," he said.

International Relations Minister Christine St-Pierre is expected to meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson in the near future to discuss the next steps. Nicholson has called Badawi's punishment a "violation of human dignity."

John Babcock, a Foreign Affairs spokesman, said the department doesn't comment on diplomatic correspondence, but reiterated Canada's call for clemency in the Badawi case.

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