Why a British grandfather faces 350 lashes in Saudi Arabia

A British citizen living in Saudi Arabia faces public flogging after Islamic authorities found wine hidden in his car. His case is drawing criticism of Western indifference towards human rights issues in the Middle Eastern country. 

Jim Bourg/Reuters
Saudi Arabia's King Salman is seen during U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Erga Palace in Riyadh, in this January 27, 2015 photo.

Karl Andree, a 74-year-old British grandfather, faces 350 public lashes in Saudi Arabia after homemade wine was found in his car.

Saudi police found wine in Andree’s car in August 2014, and he has since been serving a yearlong sentence for possessing alcohol – an illegal act in the Islamic country punishable by 80 lashes or more. Andree has yet to be released from prison, and his children say their father could now face public flogging upon completing his jail time, Reuters reported

“We implore [Prime Minister] David Cameron to personally intervene and help get our father home,” the family said in a statement to the Sun. “The Saudi government will only listen to him.” 

Simon Andree, Karl’s son, asks his own country to take responsibility for his father’s predicament. “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,” Andree told BBC.

Western countries, such as Britain and the United States, have long tiptoed around Saudi Arabia’s Islamic justice system, which sometimes calls for public stoning, flogging, executions and crucifixions.

In January, President Obama cut a trip in India short to attend the funeral for then-Saudi leader King Abdullah. A move that highlighted, what some see, as a blatant disregard for human rights issues in the country.

“It’s time for the White House to make human rights in Saudi Arabia a top priority,” Sunjeev Bery, an Amnesty International official told The Washington Post. “For too long, the US government has put geopolitics and the energy relationship over the basic freedoms and human rights of the Saudi Arabian people.”

Mr. Obama has acknowledged such criticism, but says there are also other issues we need to consider.

“Sometimes we need to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counterterrorism or dealing with regional stability,” Obama said in a CNN interview. Obama must have taken his own advice during his recent meeting with King Salman in DC last month, where the discussion focused on the Iran nuclear deal instead of human rights issues in Salman's own country. 

And like the US, Britain considers Saudi Arabia one of its closest military allies in the Middle East. 

The UK withdrew from a $9 million deal this week to provide Saudi Arabia with prison training services, a break that the British government claims is unrelated to Andree’s case. And regardless of the cancellation, some Brits, including Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, were shocked the deal was considered in the first place. 

Similar clashes between Saudi law and Western justice systems have occurred in the recent years, such as the sentence for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. Mr. Badawi was sentenced in 2014 to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes (50 lashes every Friday) for publicly criticizing the country’s religious and political leaders. 

Kirsten Andree, Karl’s daughter, said her father regrets his actions and has already been punished appropriately. “My dad broke the rules in a country that does not allow alcohol but he’s served his time,” Kirsten told the Sun this week. “Dad is 74 and not a well man.” Andree, who has lived in Saudi Arabia for the past 25 years as an oil executive, reportedly suffered ailments before his imprisonment, including asthma and cancer. 

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