NEWS

Saudi Arabia to Quebec: Stay out of Raif Badawi case

04/01/2015 05:10 EDT | Updated 05/31/2015 05:59 EDT
Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Canada has sent a letter to politicians at Quebec's National Assembly, including Premier Philippe Couillard, telling them not to meddle in the case of jailed and tortured blogger Raif Badawi or criticize the country's human rights record.

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In a letter dated March 10, addressed to the speaker of the National Assembly, the ambassador writes that Saudi Arabia "does not accept any form of interference in its internal affairs."

"The Kingdom does not accept at all any attack on it in the name of human rights, especially when its constitution is based on Islamic law, which guarantees human rights (sic)," writes Naif Bin Bandir Al-Sudairy. He adds that he sent the same letter to the federal government as well.

The 32-year-old Saudi blogger was the editor of a website called Saudi Arabian Liberals. It criticised religious authorities.

He was sentenced to 10 years, 1,000 lashes and a fine of one million Saudi riyals, or nearly $287,000. He has already received 50 lashes but subsequent whippings have been postponed, some for medical reasons and others for unknown reasons.

Denounced by Quebec government

Over the past few months, Premier Philippe Couillard and Quebec politicians of all stripes have strongly denounced the kingdom's treatment of Raif Badawi.

In February, the National Assembly unanimously passed a motion condemning the whipping of Badawi, and expressing support for his wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children, who are refugees living in Sherbrooke, Que. The speaker's office sent a copy of the motion to the Saudi ambassador in Ottawa.

After the vote, Couillard, with Badawi's wife alongside, told reporters, "We will not put our arms down. The democratic world has to say loud and clear that we don't want those practices to go again without any notice from the rest of the world."

The premier's spokesperson says Philippe Couillard has no comment on the letter for now, but that the government of Quebec has done everything in its power to raise awareness of Badawi's case, including speaking to the Saudi ambassador as well as the federal foreign affairs minister.

Badawi's supporters believe the letter shows the Saudi government is feeling the public pressure over the case.

"We are happy they responded because it seems that they find the need to respond because the pressure is so great, but of course the content of what they say is not true," says Mireille Elchacar, who works for Amnesty International and is a friend of the Badawi family.

Saudis 'shocked' by Quebec's political stance

It's rare for a national government to send such a stinging letter to a provincial government, according to some human rights experts.

"Quebec has shown a unified, political stance against this and I think that has somewhat shocked Saudi Arabia," says Kyle Matthews, Senior Deputy Director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University. 

"It's embarrassed them and they feel they have to do something to set the record straight or at least try to be seen as arguing their position from a moral and legal perspective, but it's really hard to take that seriously," he says.

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