The Danish Crown Prince Frederik and his wife, Crown Princess Mary, have come under fire over a planned trip to Saudi Arabia as part of a delegation of some 40 representatives, the Local reported Thursday. Human rights groups and left-wing politicians have lambasted the travel plans, set for late February, citing concerns over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Now those plans could be canceled.
“The timing could not be worse,” Trine Christensen, Amnesty International Denmark’s acting general secretary, told news agency Ritzau, according to the Local. “Saudi Arabia celebrated the New Year by beheading 47 people, after a year that saw a huge increase in the number of capital punishments and also reduced freedom of speech. Sending a delegation of the reported calibre at this time sends a very symbolic signal that what is going on is acceptable.”
The delegation, organized by the Foreign Ministry, included some top Danish business representatives, as well as officials from the Danish Chamber of Commerce, the Confederation of Danish Industry and the Danish Agriculture and Food Council. Saudi Arabia and Denmark are not major trade partners, but both countries have diplomatic relations with embassies.
Danish businesses were hurt in the Middle East after controversial cartoons depicting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad sparked widespread calls for boycotting Danish goods across many Muslim majority countries in 2005, including in Saudi Arabia.
“I think it is completely scandalous, if it’s true that the royal family and industry representatives are on their way to Saudi Arabia,” Nikolaj Villumsen, a spokesperson for the a Danish left-wing party, told TV2. “This is not a country that should be receiving official visits from Denmark.”
The Saudi government has routinely been accused of committing egregious human rights violations. Following the death of King Abdullah a year ago, amid hopes that the newly-appointed King Salman bin Abdulaziz could usher in reform, repression of free speech and expression continued in the kingdom, Human Rights Watch reported. At least 151 people were executed between January and November 2015, marking the most put to death in a single in at least two decades.
Saudi Arabia ignited an international controversy earlier this month after a popular Shiite cleric and strong opponent of the Saudi royal family was put to death. The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and others unleashed protests in Shiite communities across the Middle East, and prompted a diplomatic crisis between Iran, a Shiite majority country, and Saudi Arabia and its regional allies.