People hold pictures of Samar Badawi and her brother jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam, on May 7, 2015 in Paris, France.
Stephane De Saukutin—AFP/Getty Images
August 5, 2018 11:42 PM EDT

Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada’s ambassador and announced a freeze on new trade and investment in response to pressure from the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to release detained civil and human rights activists.

The Gulf kingdom issued a 24-hour expulsion notice Monday against ambassador Dennis Horak, who is also the Canadian representative to Yemen, Bahrain and Oman, and recalled its own envoy to Ottawa, according to the country’s official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs also condemned Canada’s calls for the release of detained activists as “blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs.”

“The Kingdom views the Canadian position as an affront to the Kingdom that requires a sharp response to prevent any party from attempting to meddle with Saudi sovereignty,” the statement said.

Saudi rights activists Samar Badawi, the sister of the jailed blogger Raif Badawi, and Nassima al-Sadah were detained last Wednesday, the latest targets of an “unprecedented government crackdown” that has seen more than a dozen activists arrested since May, according to Human Rights Watch.

Last week, the Canadian Department of Global Affairs pressed for Saudi authorities to “immediately release” the two activists, with Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland saying she was “very alarmed” by their detention in a post on Twitter.

Bilateral trade between Canada and Saudi Arabia surpassed $4 billion last year, in part due to a controversial 2014 arms deal worth $15 billion over several years.

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