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Family of Canadian political refugee arrested after viral rants

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saudi omar abdulaziz
Saudi
activist Omar Abdulaziz, who has been making videos critical of
Saudi Arabia for years, says two of his brothers and several of
his friends have recently been arrested.


Screenshot/Youtube


  • The family and friends of a Canadian political refugee
    and activist have been arrested in Saudi Arabia. 
  • Omar Abdulaziz, 27, told Business Insider Saudi
    authorities approached his family to pressure him to stop
    criticizing the government. 
  • When he refused, he says two of his brothers and
    several of his friends disappeared.
  • Abdulaziz suspects that the timing of the arrests
    has much to do with the
    ongoing diplomatic dispute
    between Saudi Arabia and Canada
    which continues to escalate.

The family and friends of a Canadian political refugee and
activist have been arrested in Saudi Arabia as the rift between
the two countries deepens. 

Omar Abdulaziz, 27, told Business Insider that the government has
targeted two of his brothers and several of his friends back home
in Saudi Arabia in response to his political activism. Abdulaziz
is active on Twitter and hosts a popular satirical news program
on YouTube, where he has spoken out against the Saudi government
and its human rights record.

He says Saudi authorities first approached his friends and family
earlier this week to try and get Abdulaziz to stop criticizing
the Saudi government from his residence in Montreal, but he
refused. 

“They threatened me a few days ago,” Abdulaziz said, “and they
used my brother to blackmail me. He said to me ‘Omar you have to
stop because we’re going to be arrested or jailed.’ Some of our
friends reached out to me, too. But I said I’m not going to stop,
I’m going to keep talking. ”

On Tuesday, Abdulaziz said some of his relatives noticed that his
brothers were absent during the Eid-al Adha festivities,
which sees four days of celebration centered around
sacrificing animals. Later, he says a friend who works for the
Saudi government confirmed that two of his brothers and a group
of friends had been arrested by Saudi authorities earlier in the
day.

“I cannot contact my family,” Abdulaziz said. “I tried and
they didn’t respond. 

I know that they are under
huge pressure from the Saudi government.”

Abdulaziz first moved to Canada as a student and attended
Bishop’s University in Quebec. After becoming more involved in
political commentary online, he says he decided to apply for
political asylum in 2014 because he felt that his outspoken
criticism of the government posed risks back home. 

“I was scared to go back to my country,” he said. “I knew that if
I went back I would be imprisoned.” 

His asylum application was approved, and he later became a
Canadian permanent resident in 2017. 

He says the government has never reached out to him in the
past about his political activism, and 
suspects that
the timing of the arrests is related to the ongoing diplomatic
dispute between Saudi Arabia and Canada. 

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland provoked
Saudi Arabia earlier this month with
a single tweet
 calling out the Kingdom’s human rights
record after it
cracked down on over a dozen prominent rights activists
.

Saudi Arabia responded aggressively, expelling
Canada’s ambassador
, freezing all new
trade, cancelling all
flights to Toronto

and pulling thousands
of students from Canadian institutions
.

Abdulaziz says he worries about the fate of his family and
friends, as well as the dozens of other activists who have been
taken into custody, including political protester
Israa al-Ghomgham who could be the
first female activist to be sentenced to death in the
country
.


On Thursday
, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he
continues to “engage diplomatically” with Saudi Arabia but
remains “concerned” over the impending execution
of al-Ghomgham.

“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.

Business Insider has reached out to the Canadian foreign
ministry for comment.

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