British PM Cameron to write to Saudi government over elderly Briton facing lashes

British Prime Minister David Cameron will write to the Saudi Arabian government to raise the case of an elderly Briton facing 350 lashes.
British Prime Minister David Cameron will write to the Saudi Arabian government to raise the case of an elderly Briton facing 350 lashes.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron will write to the Saudi Arabian government to raise the case of an elderly Briton facing 350 lashes after being caught with homemade wine, his spokeswoman said on Tuesday (Oct 13).

"This is an extremely concerning case," Cameron's spokeswoman told reporters. "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."

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.

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.

It comes as France agreed potential deals worth 10 billion euros (S$15.95 billion) with Saudi Arabia.

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 Shi’ite 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 5.9 million pound (S$12.57 million) bid to provide prison training services to Saudi Arabia. The decision to bid for the contract had been criticised 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.