A Saudi court has sentenced an Egyptian rights lawyer – whose arrest on drug-trafficking charges led to a diplomatic row between the two countries – to five years in prison and 300 lashes.
Ahmed al-Gizawi was accused of trying to smuggle 21,380 capsules of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, which is banned in Saudi Arabia where drug trafficking carries the death sentence.
The case has caused an outcry in Egypt where rights activists say he was arrested because of his criticism of the Saudi government.
Two other men arrested in the same case, one Egyptian and one Saudi, were also sentenced to prison terms and lashes.
“These verdicts are lenient” given the defendants’ “good morals … and the lack of judicial precedents,” the judge said at the hearing on Tuesday.
The judge asked three men if they accepted the ruling and they all replied negatively. The verdicts can be appealed within one month.
The Egyptian consulate in Jeddah said it was appealing the verdict.
Death penalty sought
The prosecution, which alleged that Gizawi had hidden the banned substance in two milk cartons and a cover for the Quran, had demanded the death penalty for the lawyer.
Gizawi had travelled in April to Saudi Arabia with his wife for a pilgrimage when he was detained at Jeddah airport, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said at the time.
The Egyptian organisation said Gizawi was held after he had earlier been sentenced in absentia to one year in prison and 20 lashes for criticising the Saudi government.
The group said Gizawi had been critical of the treatment of Egyptian detainees in Saudi prisons.
A partner at Gizawi’s law firm, Mohammed Nabil, said the case was politically motivated.
“There’s absolutely no justice in this case. We’re not asking for an exception. If he’s guilty, then he should be convicted, but he’s not,” he told the Associated Press news agency.
Hundreds of Egyptian protesters rallied outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo in April demanding his release, prompting the kingdom to shut down its mission.
The embassy reopened on May 4 following a visit by a large delegation of prominent Egyptian figures to Riyadh and a meeting with King Abdullah.