Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion says he conveyed Canada's desire to see clemency granted to jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi when he met with his Saudi Arabian counterpart in Ottawa Thursday.
Badawi, whose wife and three children live in Canada, was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes after he was found guilty in January of insulting Islam on his blog. The punishment was suspended after Badawi received the first 50 lashes but he remains behind bars.
Dion said he discussed with Adel Al Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's minister of foreign affairs, "Canada's concerns with the state of human rights in the kingdom," including the case of Badawi, whose wife and three children were granted asylum in Canada.
"I expressed the government's hope that clemency will be granted in this case," said Dion in a written statement.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion speaks in the House of Commons. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
His statement comes a day after Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, accepted on behalf of her husband the European Union's prestigious Sakharov Prize at a ceremony in Strasbourg, France.
Badawi received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, awarded yearly by the European Parliament to honour individuals and organizations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Dion said he also welcomed the recent local elections in Saudi Arabia in which at least 19 women were elected.
No 'immediate plans' to intervene: Trudeau
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was not yet prepared to intervene personally in Badawi's case, preferring to leave the matter to Dion.
"It's not in my immediate plans," Trudeau said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.
"It's a humanitarian case on which we continue to express ourselves in a clear fashion."
Trudeau's remarks came despite the fact that when he was opposition leader some of his MPs, including Dion, called on then prime minister Stephen Harper to personally ask the Saudi king to release Badawi.
Haidar has asked Trudeau to take up her husband's case so he can join his family in Canada.
Trudeau alluded to his meeting with Haidar during Wednesday's interview, saying he told her clearly that the Liberals would continue to pressure the Saudi government to free Badawi.
'Robust' trade with Saudi Arabia
Dion said his meeting with the Saudi minister helped strengthen the relationship between the two countries, which share several interests, including trade.
"Engaging with our international partners serves Canadian interests and I look forward to continuing to build on this important relationship, including our robust two-way trade," said Dion on Thursday.
A $15-billion contract to sell armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia thrust Canadian–Saudi relations under the spotlight during the recent federal election.
Harper was forced to defend the contract, saying that "notwithstanding its human rights violations," Saudi Arabia was not just a trading partner but also an ally in the fight against ISIS.
Trudeau has said he will not cancel the multimillion contract with the Saudis.
On Thursday Dion spoke of the two countries' "common resolve in the fight against ISIL, Saudi-led efforts for the recent creation of an Islamic coalition against terrorism, our contribution to the international response to the Syrian crisis, and co-ordination of our efforts to support refugees fleeing conflict areas of the region."
"I congratulated the minister on his leadership in bringing together the Syrian opposition parties, an important step towards a much needed political resolution to the crisis," Dion said.
Dion also noted there are 16,000 Saudi students pursuing their education in Canada.
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