Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that his government is continuing to “engage diplomatically” with Saudi Arabia, but said he remains “concerned” about a Saudi woman who is facing a death sentence for her political activism.
“We continue to engage diplomatically with Saudi Arabia, I think it’s important to have positive relationships with countries around the world,” Trudeau told reporters in British Columbia.
Trudeau also addressed reports that Saudi Arabia is preparing to behead 29-year-old Israa al-Ghomgham, who could become the first female activist executed in the Kingdom.
“At the same time we have expressed our concern with the sentence handed down by Saudi Arabia,” Trudeau said. “Our concern for defending human rights and our shared values all around the world.”
Al-Ghomgham was arrested along with her husband in 2015 for supporting peaceful protests against the government, rights groups have said.
“Canada will continue to stand up strongly for human rights, minority rights, and our shared universal values, even as we look to have constructive relations, positive relations with countries around the world,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister’s response follows a statement Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, made on Wednesday, saying it remained “extremely concerned” by the recent spate of arrests in Saudi Arabia.
Freeland kicked off a major diplomatic feud between Canada and Saudi Arabia earlier this month with a single tweet calling out Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record.
Her tweet provoked major backlash from Saudi Arabia — and in the last month, the country has expelled the Canadian ambassador, frozen all new investment, canceled all flights to Toronto, pulled thousands of students from Canadian institutions, barred its citizens from getting medical treatment in Canadian hospitals, and reportedly sold off Canadian assets.