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Judicial CP - March 2003

Corpun file 10808 at


BBC News, London, 5 March 2003

Middle East

Australian flogged for 'thief wife'

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has sharply criticised Saudi Arabia for jailing and flogging an Australian man for a crime allegedly committed by his wife.

Robert Thomas was sentenced last September to 16 months in prison and 300 lashes, and has since been caned 50 strokes at a time.

He was deemed responsible for the actions of his wife after she was convicted of stealing hospital equipment, an offence she denied.

Mr Howard said the sentence appeared "appallingly inhumane", and a formal complaint was being lodged with the Saudi Government.


Mr Thomas, 55, has lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, and was running the sterilisation department of the Prince Abdullah Bin Adbulaziz Hospital in Riyadh when he was arrested last June.

Under Saudi Arabia's Sharia law, he was found guilty of association when his Filipino wife, Lorna, was convicted and jailed for 16 months.

Mr Thomas' family in Melbourne was told that under Saudi culture, it was "inconceivable" that a woman could commit a crime without her husband's knowledge, the AFP news agency reported.

"On the face of it, and I don't know all the circumstances, it seems appallingly inhumane," Mr Howard said.

"I know we have to accept that if we go to another country we are subject to the laws of that country but it does seem to me to be cruelly disproportionate punishment according to the values and the understandings of Australians."

Mr Howard said he would talk to his foreign minister to pursue the case.

"Australia regards caning as a cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment, and a violation of internationally accepted human rights standards," an Australian Government spokesman said.

Mr Thomas' daughter told reporters her father is being treated "like an animal" in prison.

"Dad believes that Lorna did commit the crime," she said. "He is upset, he feels betrayed and he won't be seeking to bring her home to Australia when he is released."


Corpun file 10833 at


The Courier-Mail, Brisbane, Australia, 6 March 2003

Aussie prisoner vows not to scream

By Mark Dunn

ROBERT Thomas suffered in silence as he endured 250 lashes with a 1m cane in a Saudi prison.

He vowed they would never hear him scream at his regular floggings - 50 blows almost every fortnight - wielded by a prison official with a copy of the Koran under his arm.

The Melbourne man faces another 50 lashes in coming days and 10 more months of jail.

Mr Thomas revealed his pain and torture in a series of letters to family.

"(The lashing) is to humiliate and control and I draw a large crowd as I am one of those Western ungodly people, but they shall never hear me yell," Mr Thomas wrote on January 20 to his friend, Hilary Ash, in Melbourne.

"When it starts I think of all the websites I have visited and count them as I count the hits."

Mr Thomas said his fate was not as helpless as 30 other inmates who were on death row - and that 12 more had been executed since his arrival at the Bisha region prison in September.

Under sharia court order, the Islamic holy book is held under the official's arm while he lashes Mr Thomas.

This restricts the beatings to a wrist and forearm action because Mr Thomas is a Westerner.

On December 10, Mr Thomas, 56, formerly of Caulfield, penned another letter to his daughter, Sarah Munro.

"Lorna (his wife) and I have started our corporal punishment - caning - have received first 50 strokes, not pleasant but bearable even though the religious leader from the hospital made them hit me quite hard," he wrote.

Mr Thomas told his daughter prison guards and fellow inmates had pressured him to convert to Islam so his prison sentence would go easier.

"They continue to pump everybody with Islamic tapes, like brainwashing," he wrote.

Mr Thomas, who is not religious, is sharing a cell with five Nigerians.

Mr Thomas was jailed in a "guilt by association" finding of the Saudi court because the judge could not believe Lorna Thomas was able to commit a crime of theft without her husband being aware of it.

Filipino-born Lorna had stolen surgical equipment from the hospital where they both worked, Lorna as a nurse and Robert as an anaesthetic technician.

She sent the equipment back to the Philippines. It is believed Saudi officials claim Mr Thomas had knowledge or, as a husband, should have had knowledge, of that package being sent back to the Philippines.

Mr Thomas moved to Saudi Arabia from Caulfield 10 years ago because the Arabic kingdom was offering lucrative salaries.

Saudi hospitals are offering anaesthetic technicians about $60,000, tax-free, to work in the country, with annual free trips home.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday said consular officials from Australia's Riyadh embassy had regular contact with Mr Thomas.

Despite the floggings, Mr Thomas was in good health and spirits.

Ms Munro, 27, who spoke to her father a month after he was sentenced, said he had decided to end his five-year marriage with Lorna because of the ordeal.

"Dad believes that Lorna did commit the crime," she said. "He is upset, he feels betrayed and he won't be seeking to bring her home to Australia when he is released."

© Queensland Newspapers

Corpun file 10832 at

The Mercury, Hobart, Tasmania, 7 March 2003

Another Aussie faces flogging

By Mark Dunn

A SECOND Australian faces a public whipping at the hands of Saudi Arabian authorities.

The Queenslander, 38, is facing charges of running an illegal alcohol operation - an offence punishable by imprisonment and flogging under strict Islamic laws.

"The penalty could involve corporal punishment," a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman said.

"It was a considerable amount of alcohol, it wasn't just one bottle."

It is believed the man was arrested this week.

The Saudi kingdom, with an almost 100 per cent Muslim population, strictly prohibits alcohol.

A Saudi community spokesman in Melbourne said while alcohol use is a lighter offence, trafficking in large quantities would be viewed harshly in court.

The Queenslander's case follows that of Melbourne man Robert Thomas, who has been flogged 250 times and faces another 50 lashes for a crime his wife committed.

Despite reports Mr Thomas intended leaving his wife for the trouble she had caused, the Caulfield man, 55, appears to have forgiven her and is engaging in weekly jailhouse liaisons.

As part of Islamic rights, Mr Thomas is entitled to weekly conjugal visits with his wife while serving his 16-month sentence.

A source said he was exercising those rights and visited his wife as recently as Wednesday.

Mr Thomas, a visiting anaesthetic technician at a Saudi hospital, was arrested after sending stolen medical equipment to the Philippines.

The package was given to him by his Filipino wife, Lorna, a nurse.

Mr Thomas was sentenced on guilt by association and was told by the Islamic judge he should have known about his wife's theft.

Despite the whippings, Mr Thomas is being housed in an air-conditioned cell with TV at the Bisha region prison.

A DFAT spokeswoman said the nature and level of Australian Government appeals were dictated by Mr Thomas's wishes after he had earlier indicated he was willing to accept his punishment without further appeal.

Australian diplomatic staff had formally expressed opposition to the whippings and asked for a pardon, which was ignored by Saudi officials.

If the Queensland man suffers a similar fate the Government would make similar protests.

Mr Thomas's daughter, Sarah Munro, said she was unsure why the medical supplies had been stolen and posted.

"I imagine she was sending it back for some altruistic reasons ... if she was sending them back to sell, it would have been to help her family," she said.

"Dad was going out to send mail on this day and she (Lorna) said can you take this package and send it," Ms Munro said.

© Davies Bros

Corpun file 11007 at


Arab News, Jeddah/Riyadh/Dhahran, 8 March 2003

Australian Media Whipped Into a Mad Frenzy

By Essam Al-Ghalib
Arab News Staff

JEDDAH, 8 March 2003 - The Australian media has been whipped into a frenzy at the news that one of its nationals, 56-year-old Robert Thomas, has been flogged after being found guilty of breaking the Kingdom's laws.

And it has emerged that a second Australian, an unnamed 38-year-old who hails from Queensland, is awaiting sentencing for alcohol smuggling - and he, too, could be flogged if found guilty.

Thomas is currently a serving 16-month sentence and has received 300 lashes for his involvement in the theft of medical equipment, a crime for which his Filipino wife was also arrested.

News of the floggings in particular has resulted in outrage in Australia, where anti-Islamic sentiment is already strong because of a terrorist attack in Bali attributed to "Muslim extremists" in which many Australians died and a highly-publicized "gang rape" case in which the perpetrators were Muslim.

Australian talkback radio has been inundated by angry calls, and Sydney's influential, mass-circulation Daily Telegraph featured a front page picture of a man receiving a public flogging under the heading: "The barbaric punishment inflicted on an innocent Australian." Underneath was the headline "300 LASHES".

What the Australian media have overlooked is that Thomas was tried and convicted in a Saudi court and sentenced under the Kingdom's Shariah law. All foreign nationals who come to live in the Kingdom are subject to its laws, and those who break the law are sentenced as any Saudi would be. Their embassies and employers make this clear to them before they arrive.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has reported that embassy officials have been in contact with Thomas and his condition was reported as being "all right".

"In terms of the beatings, whilst they were painful, the real point was that they were profoundly degrading," Downer also said.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has described the floggings by Saudi authorities as "cruel and appallingly inhumane".

And herein lies the rub.

What the Australian media and government have also overlooked is the exact nature of the so-called floggings, hinted at in the fact that Thomas is "all right" despite having received 300 of them.

If they had in fact been real "lashings", the man would not have been "all right".

"The reason the punishment is meted out in public is not to humiliate, but to serve as a deterrent," Adil Salahi, an expert in Shariah law, told Arab News.

"During a flogging, the man inflicting the punishment is required under Shariah law to keep his elbow at his side and only use his wrist in a flicking motion so as not to cause too much pain."

One method that is used to ensure that the elbow does not leave the side, he explains, is to hold a copy of the Qu'ran under his arm.

"If the person receiving the punishment is in poor health, or at risk of death from the punishment itself, the person inflicting the punishment is required to hold 10 canes and count each stroke as 10," Salahi adds.

Speaking of the arrest and possible imposition of a punishment of flogging on the second Australian in custody, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman told reporters: "Of course, we'll make representations if he's sentenced to floggings. The government will again try to intervene."

Copyright © 2003 ArabNews All Rights Reserved.

Corpun file 10836 at

Herald Sun, Melbourne, 13 March 2003

Lash man for early release

By Mark Phillips and Mark Dunn

ROBERT Thomas' decision to accept 300 lashes in silence appears to have won him an early release from a Saudi Arabian jail.

The Melbourne man, 56, will receive a final 50 lashes in the Bishah prison this week, but is likely to be freed more than six months early, his family has been told.

Robert Thomas
Early release: Robert Thomas.

But the early release is due more to Mr Thomas's own exemplary behaviour in prison than efforts by the Australian Government.

It has also emerged that Mr Thomas spent time in prison in Victoria for theft more than 30 years ago.

The former Melbourne man, 56, was sentenced to 300 lashes and 16 months' jail last September.

He was found "guilty by association" under sharia law for his wife's theft of surgical equipment from the hospital in Bishah, near the Yemen border, where they both worked.

Mr Thomas, an anaesthetic technician, and his Filipina nurse wife, Lorna, were arrested in June and both given the same sentence.

Though he maintains his innocence, Mr Thomas has accepted his punishment.

He has refused to wince or scream at his fortnightly floggings of 50 lashes with a one metre bamboo cane.

Prime Minister John Howard has described the punishment as appallingly inhumane and has ordered diplomats in Saudi Arabia to step up attempts to have Mr Thomas released.

A senior official from the Australian embassy in Riyadh visited Mr Thomas at the weekend and the Government is making further representations on his behalf this week.

But it is his own stoicism and impeccable behaviour that has secured his likely early freedom.

His daughter, Sarah Munro, said her father had applied for early remission and she hoped he would be home in June.

"The Australian Government is now going to make further representations to make sure he gets remission," Ms Munro said.

"I think the media publicity has helped push them (the Government) a little bit further."

The inside of a jail cell is not unfamiliar to Mr Thomas.

Ms Munro confirmed that her father had spent about six months in a Victorian jail for theft offences he committed between the ages of 16 and his mid-20s.

© Herald and Weekly Times

Corpun file 11008 at


Arab News, Riyadh/Jeddah/Dhahran, 17 March 2003

Wife Burning

Staff Writer

RIYADH, 17 March 2003 - A Saudi has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and 6,300 lashes after being convicted of pouring hot water on his wife and burning her body with hot metal objects, Al-Madinah newspaper reported yesterday. The court in Al-Baha heard that the accused poured hot water on his wife's head and burned her hair and several parts of her body with hot metal objects. The woman suffered serious injuries from the abuse, which took place during Ramadan. Al-Madinah quoted Judge Muhammad Al-Dhaferi as saying the man will receive some of the lashes in public.

Copyright © 2003 ArabNews All Rights Reserved.

Corpun file 10920 at


AAP General News (Australia), 31 March 2003

Fed: Aust man in Saudi prison flogged after govt leniency plea

By Adam Morton and Jewel Topsfield

MELBOURNE, March 31 AAP - Australian hospital worker Robert Thomas continued to be flogged in a Saudi Arabian prison after Australia argued for his sentence to be cut, foreign affairs officials said today.

And Saudi officials had made no guarantee the Melbourne father of three would receive an early release, despite Mr Thomas' claims he had been told he would be home by June.

Mr Thomas, 56, was sentenced to 16 months' jail and 300 public lashings with a bamboo cane after his wife, a Filipino nurse, was convicted of stealing hospital equipment in June last year.

The anaesthetic technician, who had been working in Saudi Arabian hospitals for a decade, was found guilty by association under the country's Sharia law.

He is due for release in October.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Mr Thomas received the final 50 lashes of his sentence in late March - after the Australian embassy lobbied for the floggings to stop and for his release to be brought forward.

She said embassy officials had heard nothing from the Saudi Ministry for Foreign Affairs since making formal requests for his sentence to be commuted.

"The Australian embassy in Riyadh was told by the Bishah Prison office on 26 March that Mr Thomas had now completed his corporal punishment," the spokeswoman told AAP.

"He's seeking an early release, and we're supporting it, but we haven't had a response."

Mr Thomas' friend Hilary Ash said he had not received his final 50 lashes before writing a letter that she received last Wednesday.

At the time of writing, Mr Thomas said the BBC had picked up the story and broadcast it on its Arabic television news, which Ms Ash said seemed to make his fellow prisoners more careful in their dealings with him.

"He seems to feel the campaign we've been trying to run on his behalf has had some beneficial effects which is heartening," Ms Ash told AAP.

She said while Mr Thomas seemed okay and did not mention the war in Iraq, she continued to worry about his safety.

"I know he's spoken before about it being a predominantly Islamic prison and he has constant pressure on him to convert," Ms Ash said.

AAP am/dk/pw/sp/jlw

blob Follow-up: 2 July 2003 - Thomas angry at wife

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Page updated July 2003