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News - All - 19 Mar 2019

News Item 60 of 4583 

Miscellaneous: 19 Mar 2019
Renewed calls for Canada to pull out of Saudi arms deal after detained women face charges

Former UBC student Loujain Al-Hathloul has been detained in Saudi Arabia for her work as a women's rights activist, amplifying calls for Canada to pull out of an arms deal with the country. (Cherise Seucharan / Star Vancouver)

VANCOUVER—A group of detained women’s rights activists, including former UBC student Loujain Al-Hathloul, are now facing charges in Saudi court, prompting renewed calls for Canada to pull out of an arms deal with the Middle Eastern nation.

The group of 11 women activists, who were detained in the spring of 2018, were brought to court last week and now face charges of “promoting women’s rights,” as well as “contacting international organizations, foreign media and other activists” according to a report by Amnesty International. While it is not clear who has been charged specifically, due to restrictions on media and other outside observers in court, Jackie Hansen, women’s rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada, says that they are in effect being charged for being activists.

Former UBC student Loujain Al-Hathloul has been detained in Saudi Arabia for her work as a women's rights activist, amplifying calls for Canada to pull out of an arms deal with the country.


“When you look the things an activist does it’s’ talking to media and fighting for women’s rights,” she said.

Al-Hathloul had been an outspoken women’s rights advocate for many years, and is known for posting videos online of herself driving, in protest of Saudi Arabia’s ban on driving for women.

Hansen said that she fears the charges are an “escalation” of the situation for the group of women. In late 2018, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both reported that the group of women are undergoing torture and harassment in custody.

The new charges have has also prompted new calls for Canada to end participation in the Saudi arms deal, a $15-billion contract Canada signed in 2016 to provide armed vehicles to Saudi Arabia. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has mentioned looking for a way to end the deal and a spokesperson for Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland has said that she has brought the issue to the attention of Saudi officials, there has been no recent moves to signifying an end to the deal.

“We can’t be selling arms to a country with an atrocious human rights record,” Hansen said.

“We need a global and concerted effort to press Saudi authorities to release these women.”

In late February, NDP MP Helene Laverdière, who has nominated Al-Hathloul for a Nobel Peace Prize, asked the prime minister to release a statement further calling for the government to pull out of the Saudi Arms deal.

“It has been four months since the prime minister announced that his government was reviewing the existing arms export licences to Saudi Arabia.

When can we expect a decision?” she said.

Irwin Cotler, a human rights lawyer and former federal justice minister, said that there needs to be an international effort to push Saudi Arabia to release the women.

He said that despite a controversial tweet from Global Affairs Canada last summer condemning the crackdown on activism, a lack of support from other nations is what may have led to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Regrettably, at the time, not one democracy came to Canada’s defence and that emboldened the crown prince to feel he can act with impunity, and that took us down the road to the horrible atrocity with the murder of Khashoggi,” he said.

However, Cotler said that the recent condemnations of the Saudi government at the United Nations have been a “rare rebuke” that could lead to the prisoners being released.

David Moscrop, a political scientist at the University of Ottawa who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for the release of the activists and end to the arms deal, said that such deals with the Saudi government seem out of step with the Trudeau government’s claims of being more feminist and progressive than previous governments.

“Egregious behaviours ought to be stopped and punished,” he said. “If you’re going to claim the mandate of being globalist and feminist then you ought to back that up or it’s going to be difficult.”

Cherise SeucharanStar Vancouver/Somnia/AA
 

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