12/07/2011, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA
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Blasphemy: Australian Shia sentenced to 500 lashes in Saudi Arabia

The 45 year old man was arrested in Medina while making the annual pilgrimage, and sentenced to lashes and a year in prison because he has insulted "the companions of the Prophet." The result is a diplomatic incident between the two countries.
Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - An Australian was sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in prison after being found guilty of blasphemy, the Saudi authorities said today. The 45 year old man, Mansor Almaribe, resident in the southern state of Victoria, was arrested last month in the holy city of Medina, while he was making the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. His relatives in Australia have reported that Mansor was accused of insulting the "companions of the Prophet", the first group of followers of Muhammad, in violation of strict blasphemy laws in force in Saudi Arabia.

In reality, it is not clear what Mansor said or did. According to information provided by the family (photo: the five children of the accused) he was reading and praying among a group of religious pilgrims when police approached him and arrested him on November 14. Mansor is Shiite, and Sunni radicals often have a hostile attitude to Shiites, whom they believe to be borderline heretics.

The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd is handling the case personally. The Australian Ambassador in Riyadh has contacted local authorities to make an "urgent" request for clemency on behalf of the federal government. "The Australian Government is opposed to a global, general physical punishment," said the Department of Trade and Foreign Relations. Mansor Almaribe initially received a sentence of 500 lashes and two years in prison, later reduced to one year.

The eldest son of Almaribe, Mohammed said he was concerned about the physical health of his father. "500 lashes on his back, and he suffers from back problems! I do not think that he would still be alive after only 50 ". Australian officials have had great difficulty in making contact with Almaribe. Only Muslims can touch the soil of Mecca and Medina. A diplomat was prevented from entering the prison.

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