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Saudi prince cancels visit Angry over 'meddling':
PM defends right to ask questions about jailed Canadian
Francine Dubé, with files from Robert Fife National
with files from wire services - June 1, 2001
Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has postponed an official trip to
Canada amid allegations that a Canadian prisoner was tortured in the
The Prime Minister's Office said the Prince did not offer a reason for
cancelling the visit. But Al-Riyadh, a government-controlled newspaper in
Saudi Arabia, quoted a senior spokesman as saying Prince Abdullah was
angry at Canadian media coverage of the Sampson affair and the reactions
of some Canadian officials.
Al-Riyadh said the spokesman criticized "meddling by some Canadian
officials and newspapers in the security measures taken by the kingdom." He
added: "This is an unacceptable interference in our sovereignty."
Jean Chrétien last night defended Canada's efforts to determine
Sampson, the Canadian who has been held without charge in Saudi Arabia
since December, had been tortured, even though it caused Crown Prince
Abdullah to cancel his visit.
Mr. Sampson is being held in connection with two car bombs that killed
Briton and injured five other people in November.
"We have asked questions and we tried to have as much information as
possible and if he is not coming, I'm sorry," the Prime Minister told reporters
in Winnipeg, where he was attending a Liberal fundraiser.
Mr. Chrétien insisted Canada had not meddled in the Sampson case
Canadian embassy officials in Saudi Arabia were simply doing their jobs in
seeking reliable information about Mr. Sampson's treatment.
Friends and relatives of Mr. Sampson said yesterday they are disappointed
the visit has been cancelled. They have alleged Mr. Sampson is being
tortured in prison, a charge denied by both the Saudis and Canadian
government officials who visited him on Monday.
"Of course I regret it but perhaps he didn't want to answer any embarrassing
questions, which I am sure the Canadian press would have been asking,"
said James Sampson, 70, Bill's father.
William Sampson, a cousin in Merseyside, England, said: "I feel that a
statesman like the Crown Prince would have relished the opportunity to clear
the name of his homeland."
Mr. Sampson has been hospitalized three times, twice for angioplasties
open blocked arteries and once for injuries his Saudi captors said he
sustained struggling with guards who stopped him from killing himself.
Prince Abdullah's trip to Canada was part of a tour by the Prince --
effectively the ruler of the oil-rich Gulf state because of the declining health
of King Fahd -- that is to include Syria, Germany, Sweden and Morocco,
starting on June 5. His trip to Ottawa was to coincide with the opening of the
new Saudi embassy there.
John Manley, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said he was disappointed
Abdullah cancelled, but he defended the right of Canadians to ask questions
about the treatment of Mr. Sampson.
"I think that given that the kind of reports that were out there, it was
legitimate that people ask questions. That's their right. This is a democracy,"
Keith Martin, a Canadian Alliance MP and deputy foreign affairs critic
official Opposition, said he was chagrined by the Crown Prince's decision.
"We have to deal with the Sampson issue. We must engage the Saudis in
dialogue. I'm very disappointed in the behaviour of the Saudi government
with respect to Mr. Sampson. And above all else, we ensure he's treated
fairly, that he's safe, and that he's going to get a fair trial," Mr. Martin said.
"I hope Mr. Sampson is brought back to Canada where he can stand trial
here, rather than stand trial in Saudi Arabia," he added.
OTTAWA -- Bristling with indignation at
what they say is Canadian meddling in their
internal legal affairs, Saudi Arabian officials
announced yesterday that Crown Prince
Abdullah is cancelling a visit to Ottawa next
"False statements" by Canadian officials and
newspapers about the treatment of William
Sampson, a Canadian held in a Saudi jail, are
unacceptable interference in an internal
security matter, the royal palace officials said.
The announcement appeared in Al-Riyadh,
Saudi Arabia's authoritative daily newspaper.
The palace officials said in Al-Riyadh that the
cancellation "came as Canadian officials and
press were meddling in the legal and security
measures of the kingdom, which is
The kingdom "rejects any interference in its
own affairs and considers the independence
of its security measures part of its national
sovereignty," Al-Riyadh said. "The Crown
Prince is very keen to preserve the respect of
the independence of his country [and] is very
dissatisfied and will cancel his visit to
The trip was to be the first visit to Canada of
a Saudi crown prince, the country's most
important political figure.
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy where
convicted criminals are flogged, mutilated and
often beheaded and where labour unions and
political parties are banned.
But human-rights groups say the Saudis
usually escapes condemnation by Canada and
other countries because it is a major trading
partner and oil producer.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley, who
said on Tuesday he was appalled at the way
the Saudis were handling Mr. Sampson's
case, softened his tone yesterday, saying the
federal government is disappointed -- but not
slighted -- that Prince Abdullah is not coming.
He also avoided any comment on the Saudi
human-rights record, which was excoriated in
an Amnesty International report this week.
Mr. Manley said Prince Abdullah wrote to
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, explaining that
he is only postponing his visit. The Prince was
to preside at the opening of the new Saudi
embassy on Sussex Drive, near the Prime
Mr. Manley said the Prince will come some
other time. "We are glad Prince Abdullah still
wishes to visit Canada and we will be happy
to work with the Saudis to determine an
The Foreign Affairs Minister also said the
Prince gave no reason for abruptly cancelling
But there was little doubt that the
announcement is linked to the controversy
surrounding the case of Mr. Sampson, a
43-year-old contract worker from British
Columbia who has been denied access to
legal counsel while being held in custody since
December on suspicion of complicity in a fatal
The Saudi paper states that Mr. Sampson
"was involved in a car bomb that resulted in
death" even though the Canadian has not been
brought to trial. If he is convicted, he could be
Mr. Manley said he had not read the Amnesty
International report, which said that last year
Saudi authorities executed 123 people,
punished 34 others by cutting off their hands
or feet, and in one case surgically removed a
Mr. Manley said Canada has protested
against Saudi Arabia's rights record at the
United Nations, but he would not reiterate
those remarks yesterday. What seems to have
most irked the Saudis was a report in the
National Post that a doctor had confirmed
Mr. Sampson was beaten in custody.
The doctor, hired by the Canadian embassy,
and Canadian diplomats who visited Mr.
Sampson in fact concluded he was probably
bruised as guards tried to restrain him from
taking his own life.
But Mr. Manley and opposition politicians
reacted swiftly and angrily to the beating
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah is
mad at Canada. The Prince was to have
visited Ottawa this month to open the new
Saudi embassy, but when reports surfaced
here that a Canadian national, William
Sampson, had been tortured in a Saudi
prison, he took offence and cancelled the trip.
To which the only possible response is: good
Prince Abdullah is the de facto leader of one
of the world's most undemocratic countries.
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy run
principally for the benefit of the few thousand
members of the royal family, who manage to
consume an estimated 40 per cent of the
kingdom's handsome oil revenues.
Elections are unknown, as are political parties
and independent newspapers. Women cannot
drive a car, travel without male permission,
serve on the country's 90-member
consultative council or appear in public
without a flowing black cloak. Saudis who
try to oppose the government, even
peacefully, can expect arrest and indefinite
detention under the country's secretive
criminal procedures. Those actually convicted
of a crime may face flogging, the amputation
of a limb or execution by beheading in a
It is hardly surprising, then, that when Mr.
Sampson turned up injured in jail, his relatives
feared the worst. One of them suggested that
Mr. Sampson, who is being held on suspicion
of involvement in a bombing plot, had been
That allegation seems to have been wrong. It
now turns out that Mr. Sampson may in fact
have been injured when guards tried to
prevent him from committing suicide. But
given the way the Saudis often treat
suspected criminals, the family cannot be
blamed for worrying. Nor can Canadian
officials be faulted for pursuing the Sampson
Whatever Mr. Sampson may or may not have
done -- and he has yet to be tried on any
charge -- it is Canada's duty to make sure he
is not mistreated. To call Canada's
intervention "meddling" or "an unacceptable
interference in our sovereignty," as one Saudi
official did, is absurd. If Prince Abdullah
wants to take his ball and go home because of
a fuss in the Canadian papers about his jails,
so be it. He is not used to inconveniences like
a free press. But he shouldn't blame Canada.
His petulant cancellation is typical of the
Saudi style. Because of its oil wealth and its
strategic position on the Persian Gulf, Saudi
Arabia is used to getting a free pass on its
human-rights record. Feudal despots such as
the Prince and his royal relatives are
welcomed in Western capitals like old friends,
even if their hands are soaked with blood.
Before the Sampson issue got in the way,
Canada was quite prepared to roll out the red
carpet for the Prince, and after this little spat
is over it may well be ready to do so again.
That is a shame. By offering to play host to
the Prince and his ilk, Canada sends a
message of tacit approval for his regime and
its misdeeds. Welcoming dictators might have
been at least partly excusable in the days
when dictatorships and autocracies were the
norm in the world. But in these days of
spreading democracy and rising concern for
human rights, there is no reason why Canada
should act with such warmth toward a regime
so brutal and so cold.
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