Montreal: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed concern Thursday over reports that human rights activists in Saudi Arabia face the death penalty.
The two countries are locked in a diplomatic dispute triggered by Canadian criticism of the kingdom’s human rights record, but Trudeau said Canada continues to “engage diplomatically” with Saudi Arabia.
Human rights groups say Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for five human rights activists, including, for the first time, a woman.
The five stand accused of inciting mass protests in mainly Shiite areas of the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province. Human rights groups say that the execution threat is a calculated bid to stifle dissent.
“I think it’s important to have positive relationships with countries around the world,” Trudeau told a press conference in British Columbia.
“At the same time, we have expressed our concern with the sentence handed down by Saudi Arabia, our concern for defending human rights and our shared values all around the world,” he added.
“Canada will continue to stand up strongly for human rights,” said Trudeau.
The Saudi government has not confirmed that the activists face the death penalty.
Two weeks ago Canada sparked fury in Riyadh by calling for the immediate release of detained activists, including award-winning women’s rights campaigner Samar Badawi.
Saudi Arabia froze all new trade and investments, moved to pull out thousands of Saudi students from Canadian universities and pledged to stop all medical treatment programmes in Canada. State airline Saudia also suspended flights to Toronto.
In the end the Saudis gave its students an extension until September 22, according to several universities.