Story highlights

NEW: Mansor Almaribe received 75 lashes, an Australian foreign ministry spokesman says

Australian officials say they were told he made comments "insulting" to the prophet

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

(CNN) —  

An Australian man sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in prison after his conviction on blasphemy charges in Saudi Arabia is headed home after his punishment was greatly reduced, officials said Thursday.

Mansor Almaribe was arrested and convicted in mid November in the city of Medina.

Australia had appealed for leniency after popular outcry followed his sentence.

Saudi officials responded by pardoning Almaribe from his prison term and reducing the lashing sentence to 75 lashes, the ministry said.

“His corporal punishment was also greatly reduced and administered in a way that did not cause physical harm,” it said.

The ministry did not elaborate on how the lashing was carried out., though observers have suggested the punishment could be done in a largely ceremonial and non-harmful manner. It’s unclear if that’s what occurred.

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

Australian officials said they were told Almaribe made comments “insulting to prophet Mohammed’s relatives.”

“I don’t think my dad would even survive 50 lashes not 500,” his son said last month. “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.

Blasphemy is punishable by up to a death sentence under the strict Muslim law in Saudi Arabia.