Last Friday, the the Swedish king gave his Saudi counterpart the Wolf Bronze award, given by the World Scout Committee to acknowledge “outstanding service by an individual to the World Scout Movement”.
King Carl XVI Gustaf serves as the organisation’s honourary chair.
According to the Asian Tribune news website, the Saudi King also welcomed Carl XVI Gustaf in his private residence in al-Janadriyah.
“It’s betrays a complete lack of judgment to, at a time when people in the region are demanding democracy, give a medal to the region’s foremost dictators,” the Left Party’s Hans Linde told the Expressen newspaper.
Social Democratic foreign policy spokesperson Urban Ahlin also found fault with the king’s actions.
“It’s extremely bad timing to travel there and honour the Saudi king. It’s a bad signal to the people fighting for democracy and freedom,” Ahlin told TV4.
The Swedish branch of human rights organisation Amnesty also joined the chorus of criticism over the king’s visit.
“We feel that the king, or any minister on official business, should adhere to our official position when it comes to human rights,” spokesperson Elisabeth Löfgren told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.
“In Saudi Arabia, there are incredibly serious human rights violations. The list can get very long and to honour King Abdullah, who is the utmost responsible, just gives it legitimacy.”
Prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt refused to comment on the matter on Monday.
“I don’t think it’s within my role to have opinions about medals connected to the Scouting Movement,” he told the TT news agency, adding that Saudi Arabia and Sweden do have diplomatic ties.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Anders Jörle also downplayed the visit, telling Expressen he “didn’t see anything wrong” with the Swedish head of state offering a medal to the Saudi leader.
Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt also defended the king’s actions.
“If you want to change the world, you have to go out in the world,” he told TV4.