NEW: Saudi spokesman says there is an appeal process that can be used
Australian Mansor Almaribe, 45, was found guilty of blasphemy
Family members say they are worried about his health
Australian ambassador "has urgently contacted Saudi authorities"
Australia appealed for leniency after one of its citizens was sentenced Wednesday to 500 lashes and a year in prison by a Saudi Arabian court.
Mansor Almaribe, 45, was found guilty of blasphemy after he was arrested last month in Medina while on a pilgrimage, Australian officials said.
It’s unclear what Almaribe, a Shia Muslim from Victoria state, said or did to get arrested.
“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, a foreign affairs spokeswoman.
Family members said they are worried about his health.
“He is sick, and he has back injuries and he has diabetes,” his son, Issam Almaribe, told CNN affiliate 9 News Australia.
Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman Usama Al-Nugali said that the court system has an appeal process that Almaribe can resort to.
“We don’t comment on court decisions or legal procedures. However, any court pleading, primary and judicial decisions could be appealed in the appeals court. All individuals have the right for a defense attorney, including non-Saudis who also enjoy the right of the presence of their diplomatic mission,” he said.
Consular officials have contacted Almaribe several times by phone since his arrest in mid-November, and were in the courtroom during the reading of 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 imprisonment along with the 500 lashes, but the court reduced the sentence by a year, consular officials said. It was unclear when the lashing punishment will be carried out.
Blasphemy is punishable by up to a death sentence under the strict Muslim law in Saudi Arabia.
CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoom contributed to this report.