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Judicial CP - May 2003

Arab News, Riyadh/Jeddah/Dhahran, 10 May 2003

Briton Freed After Getting Royal Amnesty

Staff Writer

JEDDAH, 10 May 2003 - A British businessman freed from a Saudi jail after serving part of his sentence for running an illegal drinking den was pardoned as part of a royal amnesty and then swiftly deported, a Saudi security official said in remarks published yesterday.

Gary O'Nions, whose release was announced by the British Foreign Office Thursday, was one of some 7,000 people who benefited from a pardon of prisoners convicted of minor offenses ordered by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd, the unnamed official told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.

O'Nions, who was jailed for eight years for alcohol-related charges in the Kingdom, did not receive the proscribed 800 lashes and his fine of more than $500,000 was commuted, the Foreign Office said.

Al-Hayat quoted the official as saying O'Nions, 57, had committed "a minor crime compared to the crimes of which other Britons are accused - namely murder, bombing and undermining the security of the Kingdom."

He asked for a pardon from the king after spending three and a half years in jail out of an eight-year sentence handed down last year, the official said. Six other Westerners have been jailed in Saudi Arabia for bombings allegedly linked to a turf war between rival bootlegging gangs.

"They have confessed to their involvement in planning a series of blasts that took place in the Kingdom during the past two years," security officials have said.

Three British men - identified as James Patrick Lee, 40, James Christopher Cottle, 51, and Les Walker, 55 - gave detailed confessions on Saudi Television with maps on which they pinpointed the three attacks that left two other Britons and an Egyptian injured. The three said they had "received orders" to carry out the attacks.

Lee, who was at the time working at a military hospital in Riyadh, said he and Cottle had been recruited in November to carry out the blasts.

According to preliminary judgments, two of the six face possible beheading after they were convicted of planting a car bomb that killed another Briton in November 2000.

The other four are serving 12-year sentences. The official told Al-Hayat that a final decision on the court verdicts was yet to be made by the Supreme Judiciary Council.

Copyright 2003 ArabNews All Rights Reserved.

The Mirror, London (Irish edition), 15 May 2003

Booze brothers face 500 lashes in Saudi

By Joanne McElgunn

TWO Irish brothers face up to 500 public lashes after they were caught selling booze in Saudi Arabia.

The middle-aged pair from Portlaoise in Co Laois are currently in prison in Jeddah as they await being sentenced.

John, 63, and Noel Conroy, 51, were jailed last month for trading in alcohol - a practice banned under strict Sharia law.

They are locked up in the notorious Briman Prison in the port city but it's understood they have yet to learn their full fate, including the length of their jail terms and the number of lashes they will receive.

Under Saudi law anyone caught consuming or selling alcohol can be sentenced to several years in prison and as many as 500 lashes.

Anyone caught running an illegal drinking den faces eight years in prison and 800 lashes. Prisoners can opt for a longer prison sentence instead of a painful flogging.

The brothers were arrested and jailed three weeks ago and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin is closely monitoring the situation. A spokeswoman said: "We are aware of the case and we are providing consular assistance to them.

"However, we cannot discuss the situation as we never reveal the details of consular cases."

She refused to reveal whether the department has provided the men with legal assistance.

Irish embassy officials in Saudi Arabia have also visited both men. One of the brothers, who has lived in England for many years, was travelling on a UK passport and the British Embassy is assisting in his case.

It's understood the men were working in Saudi for some time before their arrest.

Conditions in Briman Prison are primitive and Amnesty International has accused authorities of torturing people in order to get confessions.

A United Nations report also suggests that foreign prisoners are beaten into making statements.

Last night locals in Portlaoise were shocked by the news. One resident said: "They left here a long time ago but it's terrible to hear this has happened.

"We just hope they are released without harm. It's terrible to think they could be flogged. It's barbaric. What's wrong with having a few drinks or selling a bit of booze?"

Alcohol is banned in many parts of the Arab world and this has led to a lucrative trade in illegal booze. In recent years a string of bombs attack in Saudi Arabia have been linked to a feud within the trade.

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