Saudis censor Swedish FM over criticism

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SHAFAQNA – Saudi Arabia has blocked the speech of the Swedish foreign minister at an Arab League meeting due to the criticism she has leveled at Riyadh over its human rights violations.

Margot Wallstroem told Swedish media on Monday that the cancellation was explained to be the result of Sweden highlighting “the situation for democracy and human rights” in the region.

“It’s a shame that a country has blocked my participation,” she added.

The Arab League invited the minister as an honorary guest to the meeting in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, to appreciate Sweden’s decision to recognize the Palestine state in October 2014.

In her opening speech, which was published by the Swedish Foreign Ministry, Wallstroem defended freedom of association, assembly, religion and expression as “fundamental rights and important tools in the creation of vibrant societies.”

The speech also noted that “women’s rights do not only benefit women, but society as a whole.”

Back in January, Wallstroem decried the Saudi regime’s treatment of 31-year-old activist Raif Badawi sentenced to 1,000 lashes of the whip and 10 years in jail for insulting Wahhabism, which is an extremely intolerant interpretation of Islam practiced in the oil-rich kingdom.

Prosecution for Badawi began in 2008 after he co-founded the “Free Saudi Liberals” website, on which he criticized the influential Saudi clerics who preach Wahhabism.

Criticism of Wahhabi clerics is viewed as a red line as they are instrumental in supporting Riyadh’s policies.

International human rights organizations have lashed out at Saudi Arabia for failing to address the rights situation in the kingdom. They say Saudi Arabia has persistently implemented repressive policies that stifle freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Sweden has a decade-long deal with Saudi Arabia under which Stockholm provides Riyadh with military material and training. The agreement is not sure to be renewed for another five years in May as it has been criticized in Sweden.

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