British Prime Minister David Cameron will intervene in the case of an elderly Briton facing 350 lashes in Saudi Arabia after being caught with homemade wine — a punishment that his family said could kill him.
Karl Andree, 74, was jailed for 12 months in August last year but remains in prison awaiting further punishment for breaking strict Saudi laws prohibiting alcohol after police found the wine in his car, his family said.
“This is an extremely concerning case,” Cameron's spokeswoman told reporters on Tuesday. “Given the ongoing concerns and the fact we would like to see more progress, the PM is writing today to the Saudis to further raise the case.”
The move underlines diplomatic tensions over human rights in Saudi Arabia, which is considered one of Britain's closest military allies in the Middle East.
Andree's son Simon said his father had served his time and that he regretted what happened. He 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 an old frail man and I fear this lashing sentence is potentially a death sentence for him,” Simon Andree told BBC radio. “That's our biggest concern, which is why we are trying to raise the case now to get him out.”
Britain's Foreign Office, which warns on its website that there are severe penalties for possessing alcohol in Saudi Arabia, said embassy staff in Riyadh were checking Andree's health regularly.
The Saudi Embassy in London had no comment.
The Andree case comes just over a week after Cameron urged Saudi Arabia not to go ahead with the execution of a Shia Muslim over his role in anti-government protests.
Cameron's spokeswoman also said a commercial arm of the government's justice department would be withdrawing from a $8.97 million bid to provide prison training services to Saudi Arabia. The decision to bid for the contract had been criticized by lawmakers and human rights groups.
The withdrawal was consistent with plans to wind down the activities of the commercial entity, the spokeswoman said, adding that it was unrelated to the Andree case.
The withdrawal of the bid also comes ahead of the scheduled executions of two Saudis, who were both 17 when they were arrested for taking part in anti-government protests.
The U.K.-based rights group Reprieve said both Ali al-Nimr and Dawoud al-Marhoon were "arrested and tortured into 'confessions' in the wake of protests in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province."
"This deal, if it had gone ahead, would have meant the U.K. was complicit in the same system that is threatening to execute juveniles Ali al-Nimr and Dawoud al-Marhoon for the 'crime' of protesting," said Kate Higham of Reprieve.
Earlier this month, Cameron said that the U.K. had brought up concerns over Ali al-Nimr's case. The Saudi embassy in London at the time said the kingdom "rejects any form of interference in its internal affairs," The Guardian reported.
Al Jazeera and Reuters