Australian citizen Mansor Almaribe was sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in prison by a court in Saudi Arabia after being found guilty of blasphemy.
Almaribe, a Shia Muslim, was arrested last month while on a hajj pilgrimage to Medina, one of Islam's holiest sites. So far, Saudi authorities have not said what the man from Victoria did to be arrested, according to Australian news agencies. Various witness have vague accounts of what happened, one saying that Almaribe was simply praying by himself in a Shiite area of the city, while another said that the arrest was a Sunni plot.
Shiites are the minority in Saudi Arabia, where nearly 90 percent of the population practices Sunni Islam, including the royal family.
The Australian embassy is imploring the Saudi government to get more information on Almaribe.
The ambassador has urgently contacted Saudi authorities and will make strong representations, including to key figures in the Saudi government, seeking leniency, Kate Sieper, a foreign affairs spokeswoman, told CNN.
According to Saudi authorities, Almaribe will be able to appeal the conviction, and added that his sentence had already been reduced from two years to one year.
However, any court pleading, primary and judicial decisions could be appealed in the appeals court. All individuals have the right for a defense attorney, including non-Saudis who also enjoy the right of the presence of their diplomatic mission, Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman Usama Al-Nugali told CNN.
Members of Almaribe's family, who are at home in Australia, are extremely upset, especially since Almaribe reportedly suffers from several ailments. According to his son, Almaribe has diabetes and has suffered from a poor back and knees since a recent car accident.
He couldn't survive 50 lashes, let alone 500 lashes, Almaribe's son, Isaam, told the Herald Sun.
To be lashed is barbaric and it's really terrifying. Humans shouldn't be treated that way.
Almaribe was born in Iraq nand moved to Australia as a refugee in 1999.
My husband is a peaceful man who looked out for everybody, his wife Waffa Almaribe told the Herald Sun. My children and I need him with us. I am very scared he won't survive.