By Courtney Trenwith
The kingdom will not issue business visas, renew existing visas for Swedish nationals amid escalating tensions over Swedish FM’s comments on Saudi human rights
Saudi Arabia has suspended the issuance of business visas to Swedes and will not renew the current visas of Swedish nationals living in the kingdom, according to the Associated Press.
The kingdom and the UAE also have recalled their ambassadors from the European country.
The moves are in response to Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom’s recent criticism of Saudi Arabia’s record on human and women’s rights.
A senior Saudi official told AP the visa decision was aimed at pressuring Stockholm to distance itself from Wallstrom’s comments.
She spoke out during a speech in the Swedish parliament against the flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was convicted of insulting Islam on a liberal blog he founded.
She said the royal family had absolute power, making Saudi Arabia a “dictatorship” where “women’s rights are violated”.
Last week, Saudi Arabia said the comments amounted to "an interference in its internal affairs" in violation of international covenants and diplomatic conventions.
On Wednesday, Sweden also said it would cancel a long-standing defence cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia after the kingdom also blocked a speech due to be given by Wallstrom to the League of Arab States.
The GCC’s Secretary-General Abdullatif Al Zayani on Thursday met with Sweden’s Ambassador in Riyadh to formally criticise Wallstrom’s remarks as “unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”, AP said.
Swedish companies have become concerned about the escalation in tensions and fear the visa ban will hinder their ability to do business in the lucrative Saudi market, Stockholm’s Chamber of Commerce communication director Andreas Astrom told The Guardian.