The British government is appealing to its close ally Saudi Arabia for the release of an elderly man facing 350 lashes after being caught there with homemade wine — a sentence which his family said could kill him.
UK citizen Karl Andree, 74, was jailed for 12 months in August 2014 but remains in prison awaiting further punishment for breaking strict Saudi laws prohibiting alcohol after police found the liquor in his car, his family said.
"There were two sentences. The custodial sentence which finished in August and then there's the lashing sentence… which I assume he's been kept in there because that hasn't been dealt with yet," his son Simon Andree told BBC's Radio 4.
"We have no idea what's going to happen in respect of that." Simon said he and his father communicate "with great difficulty."
British Prime Minister David Cameron is writing to the Saudi government Andree's case, which he has called "extremely concerning," according to the Press Association.
The news of Cameron's intervention into Andree's case came the same day as the UK government announced they were withdrawing from a much-criticized prison deal with Saudi Arabia that would have been worth 5.9 million pounds ($9 million).
A spokesperson for the prime minister said: "This bid to provide the additional training to Saudi Arabia has been reviewed and the government has decided that it won't be proceeding with the bid."
A spokesman for the UK's Foreign Office (FCO) said embassy staff in Riyadh were checking Andree's health regularly. "Ministers and senior officials have raised Mr. Andree's case with the Saudi Government and we are actively seeking his release as soon as possible."
The FCO warns on its website that there are severe penalties for possessing alcohol in Saudi Arabia. "Penalties for the possession of, or trade in alcohol are severe," the travel advice reads. "Both result in prison sentences. Do not arrive in Saudi Arabia under the influence of alcohol."
No one was available to give an immediate response from the Saudi Embassy in London.
Simon said his father, who had worked for oil companies in the kingdom for some 25 years, was in poor health, had suffered cancer three times, and also had asthma.
"He's keeping up," Simon said. "He's clearly concerned. He's frustrated… He's had some time to get used to it but I don't know how you can get used to being in prison, particularly when it's in another country."
"He's an old frail man and I just fear that this lashing sentence is potentially a death sentence for him," Simon said. "That's our biggest concern, which is why we are trying to raise the case now to get him removed, to get him out."
Simon added: "I'm not criticizing Saudi because it's their law, it's their way of life. My father has served his time, he regrets what's happened, he just wishes to come home now."
In terms of the response from the British Foreign Office (FCO), Simon commented: "I think my father's at the bottom of a list, he's at the bottom of a pecking order and all the business dealings with Saudi Arabia and the UK are probably taking priority over it."
He also said he believed his father had gone six months without a visit at one point. "I ask that the government plead for his clemency and for him to be released."
The Andree case comes just over a week after Cameron urged Britain's Middle East ally not to go ahead with the execution of a Shiite Muslim sentenced to death over his role in anti-government protests when activists said he was just 17.
Campaigners have continued to point out the trade relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia. In the period from May 2010 to March 2015 the UK government licensed almost 4 billion pounds worth of arms to the Gulf state, according to research by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
In a statement sent to VICE News, Andrew Smith of CAAT said: "The Saudi authorities are lashing and executing opponents, locking up bloggers and bombing civilians in Yemen. The human rights situation is dire and the UK government has repeatedly failed to say or do anything about it."
Earlier this month, Conservative chair of the UK's Foreign Affairs Select Committee Crispin Blunt told reporters that human rights no longer a top priority for the FCO, coming in behind the Conservative's "prosperity agenda."
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