An Australian man has received a sentence of 500 lashings and a year in prison after violating Saudi Arabia’s blasphemy laws.
Mansor Almaribe, 45, was participating in the Haj Pilgrimage to Mecca when officials arrested him in the city of Medina on Nov. 14.
Almaribe, a Shiite Muslim, claims to have been reciting prayers when officials arrested him. Officials argue he was insulting companions of the prophet Mohammed.
Critics argue that Saudi Arabia, a predominately Sunni Muslim nation, often invokes biased laws against Shiite Muslims, especially in major religious cities such as Mecca and Medina. Ninety percent of Saudi Arabia’s population, including the Royal family, are Sunni Muslims.
Almaribe was arrested on blasphemy charges and originally sentenced to 500 lashings and two years in prison, but his sentence was later reduced.
Almaribe’s five children and wife reside in Shepparton, a city northeast of Victoria, Australia.
Canberra officials have appealed to the Saudi Arabian government, requesting leniency for the 45-year-old man.
“The ambassador has urgently contacted Saudi authorities and will make strong representations, including to key figures in the Saudi government, seeking leniency,” foreign affairs correspondant Kate Sieper told CNN.
Almaribe's children claim their father suffers from a variety of health problems, including diabetes, heart problems and a weak back.
“He couldn’t survive 50 lashes, let alone 500,” Almaribe’s son, 21-year-old Isaam, told the Herald Sun.
“To be lashed is barbaric and it's really terrifying. Humans shouldn't be treated that way,” Isaam added.
Almaribe currently stands without a defense lawyer, as his family cannot afford legal protection.
“The Australian Government has a universal policy of condemning the use of corporal punishment amounting to torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," said a spokesperson for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
As The Age confirms, an investigation of Almaribe’s case may not be completed until the December 21.