Quebec to continue to support Raif Badawi despite Saudi ambassador’s criticism

MONTREAL — Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Canada is telling Quebec politicians his government won’t accept meddling in its internal affairs in response to the case of a jailed blogger.

The ambassador sent a letter addressed to the Speaker of the national assembly regarding Raif Badawi, saying his government expresses “its strong surprise and dismay” at what is being said and written about the case.

Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and fined for criticizing Saudi Arabian clerics.

The first 50 lashes were carried out in early January, but he has not been flogged since.

The March 10 letter was also sent to the federal government and is critical of attacks by media and international agencies on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

“(The kingdom) does not accept any form of interference in its internal affairs and rejects the encroachment on its sovereign right or the compromising of its judiciary independence and integrity,” writes Naif Bin Bandir AlSudairy.

Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said Wednesday her government will continue to champion Badawi’s cause as well as challenge other human rights abuses around the world.

“We want Raif Badawi to be released from prison and to be able to come here and live with his wife and his children,” Weil said.

Badawi is not a Canadian citizen, although his wife and children fled Saudi Arabia in 2012 and settled in Sherbrooke, Que., in 2013.

International Relations Minister Christine St-Pierre is expected to meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson in the near future to discuss the next steps.

Weil declined to speculate on whether the Saudi reaction might be indicative of something else.

“I think it’s mostly important for us to reiterate our firm opposition to his imprisonment (and) our defence of human rights,” Weil said.

Badawi’s detention and sentence have stirred up worldwide condemnation and Quebec politicians unanimously adopted a motion in February calling for his immediate release.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also spoken out against Badawi’s treatment, but has said Ottawa’s influence is limited by the fact he is not a Canadian citizen.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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