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Saudi ambassador: Canada should mind its own business over Raif Badawi

Naif Alsudairy said that Canada should support Saudi Arabia over GCC dispute but drop criticism of Saudi blogger imprisonment
A protester hold a placard calling for the release of Raif Badawi (AFP)

The Saudi ambassador to Canada has warned the country to stop interfering in the case of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, while also emphasising that Ottowa should back it over the Qatar-GCC dispute.

Naif Alsudairy told a news conference at the Saudi embassy in Ottawa that Canada should mind its own business when it comes to Badawi, whose wife Ensar Haider currently lives in exile in the country.

“It's a [Saudi] court decision we have to respect," he said, in response to a question on the subject, according to the Globe and Mail newspaper.

"We respect the court decisions here in Canada and we believe that the Canadian friends should respect the Saudi court decision.”

Asked in a follow up question if the Canadians should mind their own business, Alsudairy responded: "Absolutely right."

Badawi was arrested in Saudi in 2012 on charges of "insulting Islam through electronic channels". In 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes, later extended to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes in 2014.

He had previously co-founded the Free Saudi Liberals website, which called for reform in the conservative kingdom.

Amnesty International's Canada general secretary Alex Neve said that it was absurd for the ambassador to demand "respect" while the Badawi case was ongoing.

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“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," he told the Globe and Mail.

"This does not deserve respect; it deserves justice."

The news conference had been called to discuss the row between a bloc led by Saudi Arabia, as well as Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE, and Qatar.

The ambassador praised comments made by the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, after a phone call with Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani, in which he expressed concern about the funding of "terrorism" in the Gulf. 

“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,” Alsudairy said.

Saudi Arabia and its allies were set to hold talks in Egypt on Wednesday on the Gulf diplomatic crisis, after Doha said that the 13 demands given to the country were impossible to meet.

The four Arab nations accuse Qatar of supporting "extremism", a charge which it denies.

The Canadian foreign affairs office has repeatedly raised Badawi's case at the highest levels and called for clemency.

A spokesman said it would "continue to raise our concerns over his situation both in Riyadh and Ottawa". 

“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.”

Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar and their three children - aged 14, 10 and eight - have lived in the Quebec province of Canada since 2013.