Saudi Arabia crucified a man in Mecca while aggressively calling out Canada over human rights

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mecca hajjAhmed Jadallah/ReutersA pilgrim prays at Mount Al-Noor, a holy site near Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

  • The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed a man by crucifixion in the holy city of Mecca on Wednesday, while it was trying to attack Canada on its human rights record.
  • Saudi Arabia frequently uses capital punishment, which can be issued for crimes like homosexuality or anti-government activities, though crucifixions are rare.
  • It has lashed out at Canada, sometimes harshly, since Ottawa called for the release of jailed women's rights activists in the Kingdom.
  • Saudi Arabia has restricted travel, medical access, and students' scholarships to Canada while using its state-owned media to bash the country as unjust.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia put a man to death on a cross in the holy city of Mecca on Wednesday, while waging a public relations battle to call out alleged human rights violations in Canada.

The execution came during a deepening dispute between the two countries sparked by Canadian criticism of how Saudi Arabia is treating jailed activists.

The crucified man, Elias Abulkalaam Jamaleddeen, stood accused of murder, theft, and attempted rape, according to Bloomberg.

Saudi Arabia, ruled by its interpretation of Islamic law, rarely carries out crucifixions, but capital punishment remains common.

Crimes such as attending anti-government rallies and homosexuality have contributed to crucifixion sentences in Saudi Arabia in the past.

Wednesday's death sentence for Jamaleddeen coincides with a new Saudi state media push to attack Canada's human rights record as an escalation in a growing feud between the two distant countries.

Canada on Monday called for Saudi Arabia to release women's rights campaigners detained in the country, which prompted a harsh response from the kingdom.

Saudi-owned media blasted Canada for arresting a holocaust denier and other citizens. TV pundits brought up Canada's suicide rate in what appeared as a broadside against the country's way of living.

The absolute monarchy ruling Saudi Arabia tightly controls the media broadcast within its borders and its foreign policy messaging.

Saudi media took a decidedly dark turn on Monday when it appeared to threaten Canada with a 9/11-style attack by tweeting a harshly worded infographic with an image of an airliner flying towards Toronto's skyline.

Diplomatically, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry responded to Canada's call to free the women's rights activists as "blatant interference in the kingdom's domestic affairs."

The ministry went on to threaten vague retaliation against Ottawa.

"Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs," it said.

Saudi Arabia immediately suspended new trade agreements with Canada and expelled its ambassador. It stopped medical treatment of Saudis in Canada and made arrangements to bring home Saudi patients.

Saudi scholarship recipients to Canadian universities were ordered to other countries. Saudi Arabia's airline suspended flights to and from Canada, potentially complicating travel plans for Canada's Muslim population as the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca approaches later in August.

Where are Canada's friends?

angela merkel donald trump justin trudeau emmanuel macronLeon Neal/Getty ImagesGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel, US President Donald Trump, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and, French President Emmanuel Macron at the G7 Summit

But Canada has remained firm. Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, whose tweet sparked the hostility, said that "Canada will continue to advocate for human rights and for the brave women and men who push for these fundamental rights around the world" after Saudi's response.

"Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time," she tweeted on Friday, referring to the jailed women's rights activist, "and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi."

But the UK and US, two countries that maintain close ties with both Ottawa and Riyadh, have remained relatively silent.

The US State Department issued a vague statement calling for Saudi Arabia to respect due process, and said it would comment on the kingdom's human rights record in an annual report on human rights around the world.

The UK also expressed "strong" support for human rights, and said it "regularly" raises concerns with the kingdom, but did not mention the specific case of the Badawis.

Saudi Arabia, under the new leadership of young Mohammed Bin Salman, has undertaken a number of reforms to fight radicalism, and improve human rights and economic prospects for the country.

Salman did grant women the right to drive, but they remain legally in the care of men.

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