Briton jailed for drink den to get 800 lashes

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A Briton who ran an underground drinking club in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to 800 lashes and eight years in prison by a secret court hearing at which he had no legal representation.

Gary O'Nions, 56, was also fined £400,000 for operating the Empire Club in Riyadh. British officials were not aware he was to appear in court until they were told of his sentence by the Saudi authorities on 2 April, the day after his hearing.

O'Nions was one of several Britons arrested in Saudi Arabia after a series of car bombings in November 2000, one of which killed a British businessman, Christopher Rodway. The Saudi authorities linked the bombings to a turf war between illicit drinking clubs and launched a crackdown on alcohol dealing.

O'Nions fled to Dubai but was extradited in March last year on charges that related only to illegal alcohol trading. He intends to appeal against his sentence.

A Foreign Office spokes-woman confirmed O'Nions' sentence on "alcohol-related charges" yesterday and said it had previously asked the Saudi authorities to keep it informed when Britons were due in court. She said the Foreign Office had previously made clear to Saudi Arabia that Britain regarded corporal punishment as an infringement of human rights.

Five Britons still held in Saudi Arabia could face execution on charges of planting bombs to attack rivals in the alcohol trade. Although some were shown confessing on television, British officials are hopeful they will be pardoned. Last December four other Britons sentenced to floggings for dealing in alcohol, but not implicated in the bombing campaign, were pardoned and allowed home.

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