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Family is puzzled by man's arrest, sentencing in Saudi Arabia

By Salma Abdelaziz and Brian Walker, CNN
updated 5:13 AM EST, Thu December 8, 2011
45 year old Australian Mansor Almaribe was found guilty of committing blasphemy while on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
45 year old Australian Mansor Almaribe was found guilty of committing blasphemy while on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Australian Mansor Almaribe is found guilty of blasphemy
  • He receives a sentence of 500 lashes and a year in prison
  • Saudi official says there is an appeal process
  • It's unclear what the Shia Muslim said or did

(CNN) -- The family of an Australian man, convicted of blasphemy by a Saudi Arabian court, wonders what it is he could have said that earned him a sentence of 500 lashes and a year in prison.

Mansor Almaribe's son said the pair only had a 90-second phone conversation since his arrest last month.

"He could not speak freely because authorities were around him but he said the charges are very stupid and 'They charged me for something I have not done," his son, Issam, said.

Almaribe was found guilty of blasphemy after he was arrested last month in Medina while on a pilgrimage, Australian officials said.

It's unclear what the 45-year-old Shia Muslim from Victoria state said or did to get arrested.

"I don't think my dad would even survive 50 lashes not 500," the son said. "He goes to the doctor every week for checks ups. He has knee injuries and back injuries from a car accident and he also has diabetes and high blood pressure."

The family spent weeks searching for the Iraqi born father of five after he went missing in early November while performing the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

"When we found out what happened, it was the worst thing I ever pictured in my life," Almaribe said. "My mother cried the whole night and my baby brother cried because he saw my mom crying. It was the worst night ever imaginable."

The Australian government is pleading Almaribe's case.

"The ambassador has urgently contacted Saudi authorities and will make strong representations, including to key figures in the Saudi government, seeking leniency," said Kate Sieper, an Australian foreign affairs spokeswoman.

The Saudi court system has an appeal process, a Saudi foreign ministry spokesman said.

"We don't comment on court decisions or legal procedures," said Usama Al-Nugali. "However, any court pleading, primary and judicial decisions could be appealed in the appeals court. All individuals have the right to a defense attorney, including non-Saudis who also enjoy the right of the presence of their diplomatic mission."

Consular officials have contacted Almaribe several times by phone since his arrest, and were in the courtroom during the verdict.

Australian officials said they were informed he was convicted of blasphemy and "making comments insulting to prophet Mohammed's relatives."

His sentence was originally two years in prison and 500 lashes, but the court reduced the sentence by a year, consular officials said. It was unclear when the lashing will take place.

Blasphemy is punishable by up to a death sentence in Saudi Arabia.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom contributed to this report.

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