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Judicial CP - April 2002


Daily Telegraph, London, 10 April 2002

Pressure on Saudis as Briton faces 800 lashes

By Richard Eden

THE Foreign Office said yesterday that it was applying diplomatic pressure on Saudi Arabia to commute a sentence of 800 lashes and eight years in jail for a Briton accused of running an illegal drinking den.

Gary O'Nions, a 56-year-old businessman, was also fined 400,000 at the sentencing, which British officials did not know had taken place until the next day.

Though it would be the first reported flogging of a Briton in Saudi Arabia since 1985, it is believed that one Briton was among several Westerners flogged - with a bamboo stick - during the last year.

"We believe that corporal punishment is a violation of human rights and we have made that clear to the Saudi Arabian authorities on a number of occasions," said a Foreign Office spokesman. It has also requested that the Saudi authorities give officials prior warning of any court appearances by Britons.

O'Nions, who was born in London, is understood to be planning an appeal but he may face a harsher sentence if he does so. His family described the sentence as brutal and unfair. "I'm absolutely devastated," said his wife, Mary. "He's done nothing to warrant such an outrageous sentence.

"He was not even allowed a lawyer. We just sit back and let the Saudis do what they want. Gary is still in solitary: he can't write letters or make phone calls and he doesn't know what happens next. He can't pay that sort of fine."

The Saudis claimed that O'Nions's Empire Club in the capital, Riyadh, was the most successful drinking club in the kingdom. British troops serving in the Gulf war helped build the club, which was popular with foreign diplomats and expatriates.

O'Nions fled to Dubai in the summer of 2000 after the premises were raided and the club was closed down. He was extradited to Saudi Arabia in March last year and his wife was also held for a time.

Flogging is regularly imposed in Saudi Arabia for offences related to alcohol, theft or the breaking of the country's strict moral codes. Anything from 50 to several thousand lashes are inflicted in public squares or prisons.

A sentence of 800 lashes is usually administered in stages. In the case of the harshest flogging recorded by Amnesty International - an Egyptian sentenced to 4,000 lashes for robbery in 1990 - the punishment was reportedly implemented at 50 strokes every two weeks. After each beating, the man was left with bruised and bleeding buttocks, unable to sit for three or four days afterwards.

Avan Wadia, spokesman for Prisoners Abroad, said it was shocked at the severity of O'Nions's sentence. "This is extremely harsh," she said. "I can only imagine that it was increased because he fled the country."

She expressed alarm at the claim by Mrs O'Nions that her husband had been refused access to a lawyer and kept in solitary confinement. The group had been in contact with the Foreign Office to try to ensure that his rights were respected.

Five other Britons face the death penalty for their alleged involvement in a campaign to plant bombs as part of a dispute between rival bootleggers.

Christopher Rodway, a British businessman, was killed by a car bomb in one of the attacks, in Riyadh, in November 2000, which also maimed six other expatriate workers.

The British nurse Lucille McLauchlan was sentenced to 500 lashes and eight years in jail as an accessory to the murder of Yvonne Gilford by their colleague Deborah Parry in 1996. Parry was sentenced to death, but they were freed after King Fahd commuted the sentences to the 17 months they had served.

blob Follow-up: 10 May 2003 - Briton Freed After Getting Royal Amnesty (and did not receive the lashes)

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Colin Farrell 2002, 2005
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