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US declines to take sides in heated Saudi, Canadian fight over human rights


The U.S. is declining to take sides between Saudi Arabia and Canada after the Middle Eastern nation’s extraordinary reaction to Canada’s condemnation of the arrest of a Saudi Arabian human rights activist.

Saudi officials reacted with fury to the criticism: expelling Canada’s ambassador and withdrawing their own ambassador from Canada, suspending flights from Saudi Arabia to Canada, halting all new Saudi business and investments in Canada, and issuing what to many Canadians appeared to be a veiled threat of terrorist violence.

To critics, the diplomatic dispute over freedom of speech and human rights has underscored how the U.S. at times stays quiet on human rights issues in certain friendly countries.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Tuesday that the U.S. raises such issues privately with Saudi Arabia — and that it is up to the Saudis and Canadians to work this out, but she declined to condemn the activist’s arrest.

The activist is Samar Badawi, a noted women’s rights advocate who was honored as an International Women of Courage Award Winner by the U.S. State Department in 2012.

Badawi was the first woman to sue her father to block him from preventing her from marrying the man she wanted to, and the first woman to sue the government to demand the right to vote, according to the State Department.

She was arrested last week after years of punishment by Saudi authorities, including a 2014 travel ban and a 2016 arrest.

But she’s also one of as many as a dozen women arrested in recent months, even as the kingdom’s young Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has tried to improve the country’s image and taken steps to grant women more freedoms — including drivers’ licenses. Read more

Read also: Sen. Chris Murphy calls for more Silicon Valley censorship: ‘Survival of our democracy depends on it’

US declines to take sides in heated Saudi, Canadian fight over human rights