Saudi Arabia punishments: What will get you flogged – or worse – in the conservative kingdom

A British grandfather faces 350 lashes for possessing bottles of homemade alcohol, drawing renewed focus on Saudi-UK ties

Adam Withnall
Tuesday 13 October 2015 11:08 BST
Saudi police take turns caning a man convicted under sharia law. Saudi Arabia denies it has links with the violence of the Wahabis
Saudi police take turns caning a man convicted under sharia law. Saudi Arabia denies it has links with the violence of the Wahabis

Karl Andree, 74, has already been in jail for more than a year and now, despite his age and ill health, faces a further punishment of more than 350 lashes which his family says could kill him.

The British grandfather’s crime was being caught by the Saudi police with some bottles of homemade wine in the back of his car. He has dedicated 25 years of his life to working in the kingdom but, his family says, the punishment could effectively see him sentenced to death by the state.

Pensioner faces 379 lashes

Mr Andree’s case has brought renewed focus on the harsh crime and punishment regime enforced in the kingdom, as well as calls for David Cameron to intervene personally. The production, possession or consumption of alcohol is strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabia – but it’s not the only thing that could get you flogged.

Talking openly about sex

In October 2009, a Saudi airline employee called Mazen Abdul-Jawad appeared on a TV programme aired by the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation where he discussed his sex life, picking up girls and a recipe for an aphrodisiac.

Talking about sex publicly is forbidden in the ultra-conservative country. He was arrested for publicising vice, jailed for five years and sentenced to 1,000 lashes. Other men who appeared in a panel discussion on the show, as well as an LBC journalist and cameraman, were also arrested.

‘Pestering’ girls

In 2000, Reuters reported that a group of teenage boys faced public floggings and possible prison terms for loitering outside girls’ schools and “pestering” members of the opposite sex.

Reports in Saudi media said the arrests were made following complaints from girls and parents about “remarks” the boys made. Their behaviour was described as “immoral behaviour” and a committee was set up by the prince of Medina.

Insulting Islam

Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam in May 2014.

One of the most high-profile cases internationally, it began when Badawi was arrested for co-founding the Liberal Saudi Network internet discussion group, which encouraged debate about religious and political issues.

Driving a car (if you are a woman)

While it is not against the law for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, conservative religious edicts have banned it and authorities do not issue women with licences.

In September 2011, Shaima Ghassaniya was sentenced to 10 lashes after being found guilty of driving without the government's permission. The punishment was later revoked on the personal orders of then-King Abdullah.

Bringing chocolates into the country

In September 1999, a Filipino man named Faustino Salazar was arrested on arrival at King Khaled airport in Riyadh for possessing two chocolates bars containing alcohol.

He said he had bought the sweets at a duty-free shop during a stopover in Bahrain, and wasn’t aware of their alcoholic content. He was nonetheless sentenced to four months in jail and 75 lashes.


A 19 year-old woman, known as the "Girl of Qatif", was with a male friend in his car when she was driven off and gang-raped by a group of men. She was sentenced to prison and lashes for being alone with a man not related to her - a violation of the kingdom's strict segregation of the sexes. Authorities later claimed she admitted to having an extra-marital affair.


A Saudi Arabian man, 24, was sentenced to three years in jail and 450 lashes after he was caught using Twitter to arrange dates with other men. He was found guilty of "promoting the vice and practice of homosexuality".

There are also numerous reports of men being arrested and flogged for attending “gay weddings”, despite the fact gay marriage is not recognised in Saudi Arabia.

Spending time with members of the opposite sex

Saudi Arabia prohibits mingling between members of the opposite sex unless they are immediate relatives. In 2009, Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, 75, was sentenced to 40 lashes and four months in jail for having two unrelated men in her house. The two men, known only as Fahad and Hadyan, said they were bringing the elderly woman bread, but they were all found guilty.

... or worse

While Mr Andree's family have described his 350 lashes as an effective "death sentence", the Saudi kingdom does also mete out explicit executions, most commonly in the form of beheading.

International rights organisations and charities have condemned the processes by which the kingdom reaches death sentence verdicts, and says it fails to reserve them for the most serious crimes.

Earlier this year, Middle East Eye produced an analysis of the Saudi crime and punishment system, comparing it to those meted out by the Isis militant group under Sharia law.

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