Canada fires back at Saudi Arabia for preparing to behead a female activist for the first time

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  • Canada responded to news that Saudi Arabia is on the cusp of executing a female rights activist for the first time.
  • Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland kicked off a diplomatic feud earlier this month with a single tweet calling out Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
  • Freeland’s office issued a familiar statement on Tuesday, though it steered away from calling on Saudi Arabia to “immediately release” activists on death row.
  • The dispute between the nations has escalated in recent weeks, and Canada is refusing to back down.

Canada responded to news that Saudi Arabia is planning to behead a female activist currently behind bars, in a further escalation of an already-tense diplomatic spat between the two countries.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland sparked major controversy earlier this month with a single tweet calling out Saudi Arabia for its detention of a prominent activists. The dispute soon escalated – you can read a complete timeline here.

The latest development came in a new statement from Canada, repeating its condemnation of how Saudi Arabia treats prisoners in light of reports by Business Insider and other outlets that political activist Israa al-Ghomgham has been sentenced to death.

“As Minister Freeland has previously stated, Canada is extremely concerned by the arrests of women’s rights activists,” a foreign affairs spokesman said in a statement, according to the Globe and Mail.

“These concerns have been raised with the Saudi government. Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world.”

Two human-rights groups told Business Insider on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia is about to execute al-Ghomgham, who would be the first woman killed in Saudi Arabia solely for her activism (others have been given the death penalty for different offenses).

al-Ghomgham, 29, was arrested along with her husband in 2015 for supporting peaceful protests against the government, rights groups have said, and she now faces the death penalty.

Saudi authorities have held five activists facing the death penalty in pretrial detention without legal representation for over two years, Human Rights Watch said. Their next court date is scheduled for October 28, 2018.

In a statement, Freeland expressed dismay over Saudi Arabia’s continued aggression towards protesters.

The statement did not call specifically for al-Ghomgham’s immediate release, unlike in earlier statements where Canada named prisoners it wants freed. Saudi Arabia called the earlier statements “reprehensible and unacceptable use of language“.

And what started with a single tweet has now escalated into a full-blown diplomatic feud. Saudi Arabia has expelled the Canadian ambassador, froze all new investment, cancelled all flights to Toronto, pulled thousands of students from Canadian institutions, barred its citizens from getting medical treatment in Canadian hospitals, and reportedly sold off Canadian assets.

Canada in turn, has refused to back down, and both countries seem to be weighing their next moves and remain at an impasse.

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