SYDNEY - An Australian man has been sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in a Saudi Arabian jail after being convicted of blasphemy, officials said Wednesday.
The 45-year-old man, identified by family members as Mansor Almaribe of southern Victoria state, was detained in the holy city of Medina last month while making the Muslim pilgrimage of hajj. Family members told Australian media that Saudi officials accused him of insulting the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, a violation of Saudi Arabia's strict blasphemy laws.
Australia's ambassador in Saudi Arabia has contacted Saudi authorities in a bid for leniency, the Department of Foreign Affairs said. Consular officials are providing support for the man and his family in Australia.
"The Australian government is universally opposed to corporal punishment," the department said in a statement.
Almaribe was convicted of blasphemy on Tuesday and initially sentenced to two years in jail and 500 lashes. The court later reduced his jail sentence.
Almaribe's son Jamal told The Age newspaper that his father was reading and praying as part of a group when he was arrested.
Almaribe's son Mohammed said he feared for his father's well-being. "Five hundred slashes on his back, and he has back problems. I wouldn't think he'd survive 50," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp.