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Judicial CP - Nov 2007

Corpun file 21601


Daily Mail, London, 28 November 2007

'My whole back felt like it was on fire': As a British teacher faces 40 lashes, one man speaks out

Just what is it like to be lashed? In 1993, Gavin Sherrard-Smith, a computer expert from Cheltenham, received 50 lashes with a bamboo cane in a prison in Qatar.

He was accused of breaking an alcohol ban while living in Doha, the capital - something that Mr Sherrard-Smith, now 47, has always denied.

This is his astonishing account of how the brutal punishment was carried out, and how he endured it.

Punishment: Gavin Sherrard-Smith received 50 lashes with a bamboo cane

"Tuesday was punishment day. There were 22 of us on the list and one by one we were led into the doctors' clinic to be examined.

Finally, it was my turn and they laid me on a couch, spent several minutes discussing me and, after listening to my heart, judged me fit.

Having been searched to make sure we had no padding under our clothes, another man and I were ushered into the waiting room.

His name was called out first so I remained in the waiting room while he received his punishment next door.

I could hear the cane whooshing through the air and landing with a thud, 50 times.

And then it was me. The room where we were beaten was lit by four striplights in the ceiling.

It was about 12ft by 14ft of whitewashed breezeblocks, with windows on one side and dirty cream curtains hiding the iron security grilles.

There was a stained carpet covered with cigarette burns.

Three policemen, three doctors, a senior police officer and a religious judge were sitting on benches and behind a wooden desk as I was marched in.

They were all holding canes - each more than a yard long and about half an inch thick.

One fellow prisoner had told me he'd been hit so hard that the bamboo cane had broken, which wouldn't be a problem here as there were another eight propped against the wall.

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The sentence of the Islamic court was read out and translated by one of the doctors.

The judge asked if I had anything to say and I replied only that I was innocent, although I'm not sure that was translated.

Then I was told to lie face down on a rug on the floor, still wearing my prison uniform.

The lashing started immediately. One, two, three - in quick succession. I buried my head into my forearms, gritted my teeth and concentrated on not breaking down.

The man lashing me was the tallest and biggest of the three policeman.

He was supposed to have a book - usually the Koran - under his arm to reduce the swing and stop him from lifting the cane above his head, but there was no sign of it.

Four, five, six, seven - they kept coming thick and fast. At first the pain wasn't too much and I could feel where he was hitting me.

The blows were raining down on my body, from the shoulder blades to the calves, then back up again.

But with each blow, the skin softened and the pain grew and grew to the point that my whole back felt like it was on fire.

Soon it was unbearable, but they kept coming, mostly on my left shoulder and calf. I had to summon up all my control not to move.

I didn't realise the human body could generate and tolerate such pain. I had never felt anything like it before, and I hope I will never feel anything like it again.

At about 20 I lost count because I was in too much pain, but someone else was counting each stroke out loud in Arabic.

I had to grit my teeth even more and screwed up my eyes.

I was determined not to make a sound and to lie perfectly still.

Only one of us would leave this room with their dignity intact - me.

After a while I had no idea where he was hitting, even though my clothes were getting torn. The last ten strokes were agony, bloody agony.

I thought I was going to pass out.

Then just as quickly as it started, it was over. Thirty to 40 seconds was all it had lasted. I was left to stagger to my feet and walk out.

The first person I saw was the prison governor. He said: 'You are still alive then?' I replied: 'Yes, I'm fine.'

I was shaking uncontrollably, but just glad it was all over.

Although I'd been given a medical check before I was beaten, there was nothing afterwards.

A fellow inmate counted the marks on my back and there were scores of weals - blue and black, surrounded by yellow swellings and extremely painful. Any movement set them on fire.

I couldn't lie on my back for days and, two weeks later, I was still in pain.

Today, the scars have healed, but I will never forget the ordeal."

2009 Associated Newspapers Ltd

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