Britons Held in Saudi Could Face Flogging over Alcohol Charges
Five Britons held in Saudi Arabia for alcohol-related offences could face an Islamic court, which hands down the punishment of flogging, a Saudi security official said Wednesday.
"It is not surprising to see Britons, Americans or Europeans being held in connection with drug cases or in cases involving the consumption or production of alcohol," which is strictly banned under the Islamic laws of Saudi Arabia, he said.
The unnamed official, quoted in Al-Riyadh newspaper, said that "people arrested in Saudi Arabia for various crimes are questioned and tried in accordance with sharia" laws of Islam.
Islamic courts hand down the death sentence for drug trafficking, while alcohol offences are punishable by prison terms and flogging.
In London, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said Tuesday the five men had so far not been formally charged, following their arrest in early December. Three of them had been seen by consular officials, and said they were being treated well.
She said all five were under investigation for "alcohol-related offences", adding that it was not known whether the offences involved only the consumption of alcohol, or its production or supply.
Saudi officials have for the past two months been investigating a series of car-bomb attacks against British nationals that killed one Briton and injured five other people in November and December.
The attacks, coinciding with anti-Western sentiment due to the Middle East conflict, could have been linked to trafficking in alcoholic drinks, according to Saudi newspapers.
It was not known whether the arrests were related to these allegations.
The Saudi official quoted in Al-Riyadh said "the results of the investigation (into the bombings) will be announced soon," but steered clear of making any link with the arrests.
A US national is among suspects detained for the bombings --RIYADH (AFP)