WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia’s aggressive response to international criticism of its human rights and justice system continues with a warning to Canadian politicians. According to CBC News, the Saudi ambassador to Canada, Naif Bin Bandir Al-Sudairy, sent a letter to Quebec’s National Assembly telling it not to interfere in the case of blogger Raif Badawi.
In his letter, which was dated March 10, Sudairy warned that the kingdom “does not accept any form of interference in its internal affairs.”
Badawi, a blogger arrested after criticizing Saudi religious authorities, had sparked global criticism of the kingdom’s legal system after he was sentenced to 1,000 lashes last year. He received 50 lashes in January but since then the whippings have been postponed without a full explanation.
Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and her children have obtained refugee status in Quebec, and Haidar has helped to lead an international campaign to free her husband. A number of Quebec politicians had publicly denounced Badawi’s sentence, and in February the National Assembly had unanimously passed a motion condemning the blogger’s punishment.
Aside from the defense of sovereignty, Sudairy’s letter also included a defense of the sharia law that forms the basis of the Saudi legal system. “The Kingdom does not accept at all any attack on it in the name of human rights, especially when its constitution is based on Islamic law, which guarantees human rights,” the letter reads, according to CBC News.
On Wednesday, Quebec’s immigration minister, Kathleen Weil, said that her government would continue its defense of Badawi.
Sudairy’s letter bears a resemblance to the official Saudi response to the Swedish foreign minister’s criticism of its human rights record last month. There, Saudi Arabia not only suggested that Margot Wallstrom had overstepped the mark by talking about the kingdom’s internal affairs but that her criticism amounted to a broader attack on Islamic law.
Among some other Muslim states, the second argument proved persuasive. “The ministers have voiced their condemnation and astonishment at the issuance of such statements that are incompatible with the fact that the Constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on sharia,” Arab League foreign ministers said in a joint statement. Combined with considerable economic pressure, this response had an impact: Wallstrom later told reporters that Sweden had the “greatest respect for Islam as a world religion and for its contributions to our common civilization.”
The Saudi kingdom appears to be taking a newly combative approach when criticized about its human rights record, Fahad Nazer, a former political analyst at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, said in an e-mail last month, often reframing the argument so it is not about human rights but more broadly about on Islam. “Both political and religious leaders have since made it clear that the kingdom’s judicial system, which is based on Islamic Sharia, is a ‘red line’ that will not be crossed,” Nazer wrote.