Saudi Arabia Suspends State Airlines’ Flight to Toronto Amid Row With Canada Over Human Rights Activist’s Detention
Saudi Arabia's national airline has suspended all flights to Toronto effective August 13. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In what seems to be an overly harsh warning to Canada to stay out of its domestic affairs, Saudi Arabia has suspended its state airline’s flights to Toronto effective August 13.

The Middle Eastern country has moved lightning fast over the Canadian government’s comments and also frozen all trade as well as expelled Canada's ambassador over "interference" as Ottawa called for Riyadh to release human rights activist Samar Badawi, who was arrested last week.

In a statement released through the Saudi Press Agency Sunday, Riyadh bluntly condemned the criticism from Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and the Department of Global Affairs, calling it "blatant interference in the Kingdom's domestic affairs, against basic international norms and all international protocols" and a "major, unacceptable affront to the Kingdom's laws and judicial process, as well as a violation of the Kingdom's sovereignty."

Freeland said she was "deeply concerned" over the Canadian diplomat's expulsion, but added: "Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women's rights and freedom of expression around the world.

"We will never hesitate to promote these values and we believe that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy."

The BBC reports that what can be called a chilling yet bizarre warning, a verified Twitter account, which is reportedly linked to Saudi authorities, shared an image of a plane flying towards Toronto's famed CN Tower. The image was overlaid with text, including a quote which read "he who with what doesn't concern him finds what doesn't please him".

The Saudi Arabian government plans to withdraw all Saudi students studying at Canadian universities, colleges and other schools in retaliation for Canada criticizing the country’s human-rights record.

A Saudi government source, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said there are more than 15,000 Saudis here on government-funded scholarships, grants or in trainee programs. Accompanying family members bring the number to 20,000 or more.

Last week, the Canadian government publicly criticised the Saudi Arabian government after two women’s-rights activists were arrested, the latest to be swept up in a government crackdown on activists, clerics and journalists. Those detained included activist Samar Badawi, sister of writer Raif Badawi, who is already imprisoned in Saudi Arabia and sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.

Freeland said on Twitter last Thursday that she was “very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”

Despite Riyadh’s recent moves to liberalise such as allowing women to drive as part of the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s plan to re-envision his Kingdom by 2030, Saudi Arabia’s laws are deeply conservative and have time and again been condemned by international human rights agencies.