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Australian Muslim making pilgrimage to Mecca sentenced to 500 lashes for blasphemy
An Australian man has been sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in a Saudi Arabian jail after being convicted of blasphemy.
The 45-year-old man, identified by family members as Mansor Almaribe of southern Victoria state, was detained in the holy city of Medina last month while making the Muslim pilgrimage of hajj.
Family members told Australian media that Saudi officials accused him of insulting the companions of the Prophet Mohammed, a violation of Saudi Arabia's strict blasphemy laws.
Thousands of Muslim pligrims gather every year at the Prophet Mohammed mosque at sunset
Australia's ambassador in Saudi Arabia has contacted Saudi authorities in a bid for leniency, the Department of Foreign Affairs said. Consular officials are providing support for the man and his family in Australia.
'The Australian government is universally opposed to corporal punishment,' the department said in a statement.
Mr Almaribe was convicted of blasphemy yesterday and initially sentenced to two years in jail and 500 lashes.
The court later reduced his jail sentence.
His son Jamal told The Age newspaper that his father was reading and praying as part of a group when he was arrested.
Another son, Mohammed, said he feared for his father's well-being. 'Five hundred slashes on his back, and he has back problems. I wouldn't think he'd survive 50,' he told Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade today said the Australian ambassador had been in touch with Saudi authorities and was providing consular assistance to Mr Almaribe's family.
'The Ambassador will urgently pursue avenues for leniency with relevant authorities,' a spokeswoman said.
Australian officials have struggled to get to Mr Almaribe with one being refused entry at the prison door and also because only followers of Islamic faith may enter Medina, under Saudi law.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was keeping in close contact with the Australian ambassador in Saudi Arabia, the spokeswoman said.
'The ambassador has urgently contacted Saudi authorities and will make strong representations, including to several key figures in the Saudi government, seeking leniency,' the spokeswoman said.
'There are formal avenues for doing this under Saudi law.' A consular official attended the sentencing.