Saudi Arabia has offered a telling response to Canadaâ€™s complaint about the arrest of two prominent female activists, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah. The Saudi Foreign Ministry protested that Canada was engaging in â€śblatant interference in the Kingdomâ€™s domestic affairsâ€ť and an â€śunacceptable affront to the Kingdomâ€™s laws and judicial process.â€ť The call by Canada to release the women was â€śreprehensible,â€ť the ministry said. In other words, Saudi Arabia would like the rest of the world to look the other way.
Fortunately, Canadaâ€™s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, refused. On Aug. 2, she wrote on Twitter that Canada was â€śvery alarmedâ€ť about the detention of the two women. Badawi is the sister of Raif Badawi, a blogger serving a 10-year jail sentence for running a website that was critical of Saudiâ€™s strict religious authorities. Saudi Arabiaâ€™s young ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been intolerant of dissent and jailed dozens of critics, including intellectuals, journalists and advocates of womenâ€™s right to drive. Most have been thrown in jail for long periods without any semblance of due process. When Freeland called for the Badawis to be freed, the crown prince answered by expelling Canadaâ€™s ambassador and severing trade, travel and student exchange links. The intended message: Other countries should mind their own business, or else.
What Freeland and Canada correctly understand is that human rights and basic liberty are universal values, not the property of kings and dictators to arbitrarily grant and remove on a whim. Saudi Arabiaâ€™s long-standing practice of denying basic rights to citizens, especially women - and its particularly cruel treatment of some dissidents, such as the public lashes meted out to Badawi - are matters of legitimate concern to all democracies and free societies.