It’s been quite a day of developments with our friends in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

This morning, we woke up to the news that a 74-year-old south Londoner, Karl Andree, was facing 350 lashes in Saudi Arabia, as punishment for transporting bottles of home made wine in the back of his car.

Meanwhile, a cabinet split had emerged between Michael Gove, the justice secretary, and Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, over a bid for a £5.9m prisons training deal.

By the afternoon, David Cameron announced that he would be writing to the Saudis about Mr Andree’s case, and at about the same time, announced that the deal was off.

FactCheck’s been looking at the Kingdom’s human rights record and Britain’s complex relationship with it.

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What happened to Karl Andree?

Mr Andree, 74, a former general manager with the Asian Lubricating Oil Co, an exporter, was arrested in August last year when he
was caught with the wine in Jeddah. In January, he was sentenced to a year in jail, and lashes.

It’s not quite clear how many lashes he was sentenced to – his family say he was sentenced to 350, but Whitehall sources have told FactCheck it was 79.

His family said there was “no doubt in our mind that 350 lashes will kill him”.

With Mr Cameron’s intervention, it is unlikely they will take place.

Why lashes?

Justice in Saudi Arabia follows the Kingdom’s intepretation of Islamic law.

Scholars say there are six crimes in Islamic law which fall under “hudud”, or “crimes against god” each with a specific punishment.

Drinking intoxicants is punishable by 80 lashes. There is also theft (punishable by amputation of the hand); illicit sexual relations (death by stoning, or 100 lashes); making unproven accusations of illicit sex (80 lashes); apostasy (death or banishment); and highway robbery (death sentence).

Sentences are usually carried out with a cane or a whip to the back.

Adil Salahi, an expert in Shariah, or Islamic law, has told Arab News: “The reason the punishment is meted out in public is not to
humiliate, but to serve as a deterrent.

“During a flogging, the man inflicting the punishment is required under Shariah law to keep his elbow at his side, and only use his wrist in a flicking motion so as not to cause too much pain.”

He added that the person administering the punishment will often hold a copy of the Qu’ran under his arm, to ensure the elbow
doesn’t leave his side.

The lashes are normally administered in batches, with a top limit of 50. Doctors are supposed to assess whether someone is
medically fit enough to receive lashes.

Amnesty International said that the most lashes in a single case it has recorded is 4,000, imposed on Muhammad Ali al-Sayyid, an Egyptian national who was convicted of robbery in 1990. He was lashed 50 times every fortnight. He was released from prison in 1998.

We asked Amnesty whether it knew of anyone who had died from being lashed, but they didn’t come up with any examples.

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Who else uses lashes?

Britain did, until 1962. Using either the birch, a bundle of twigs bound together at one end to form a handle, in three different sizes for different ages, or a cat-o’-nine-tails, nine tails of fine whipchord bound with silk at the tip.

It was abolished in Britain in 1948, except the cat and birch was allowed for assaults of prison staff, until 1967, when it was abolished altogether. The last flogging was 1962.

Judicial corporal punishment – caning, birching, whipping, strapping or bastinado (beating the soles of the feet) – is common in some of Saudi Arabia’s neighbours, including the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Qatar. It also takes place in Iran.

It is also common in former British colonies, now members of the Commonwealth, including Malaysia, Singapore and Tanzania.

Under the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention
against Torture, “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” is forbidden.

What about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record?

It’s not great, according to most accounts. Human Rights Watch says the Saudis frequently haul peaceful political dissidents and
human rights activists before the courts, discriminate against women and religious minorities, fail some 9 million foreign workers,
and subject people to arbitrary detention and unfair trials.

An issue which continues to cause concern internationally is the use of the death penalty. In Saudi Arabia, this is through public
beheadings; stoning, another former method, appears to be on the decline.

According to Death Penalty Worldwide, there were 134 executions in Saudi Arabia in 2015 so far, suggesting the rate is on the rise.

      Year                  Executions
2007                         143
2008                         102
2009                            69
2010                            27
2011                            82
2012                            79
2013                            79
2014                            90
2015 so far               134

In terms of absolute numbers, Saudi Arabia comes about third, globally, for the number of people executed:

China carried out the most, according to Amnesty International, but the organisation has stopped publishing figures on China because “data on capital punishment is considered a state secret”. Instead, they challenge Chinese authorities to publish the figures themselves.

Saudi Arabia claims, in its defence, that it’s not the worst. Even when ranked per head of population, however, it still comes third in global rankings:

What about the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia?

Tricky.

The UK foreign office lists it as a “country of concern”, because of its use of the death penalty, access to justice, women’s rights and restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion or belief.

Nevertheless, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade says that since the 1960s, Saudi Arabia has been a major buyer of UK weapons. The coalition government, it says, has licensed almost £4 billion of arms to the regime, until March this year.

The FCO also says that it is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East. The UK exported £7bn worth of goods and services in 2014. More than 6,000 UK firms export goods to Saudi Arabia.

When it comes to dishing out advice on business risks for UK companies wanting to work in or with Saudi Arabia, it points out that human rights are “of concern”, listing the death penalty and corporal punishment, but adds: “It is important to recognise the significant social and political changes that are taking place within the Kingdom. Many visitors to Saudi Arabia find the negative stereotypes associated with the country in the West to be wide of the mark.”

The deal to train Saudi civil servants in the prison service might have fallen through, but other arrangements remain in place.

Among them: British soldiers are being deployed in Saudi Arabia, to train Syrian rebels to fight against President Bashar al-Assad, according to the Ministry of Defence.

The College of Policing also works in Saudi Arabia, training police there. We’re not clear exactly what they do – it isn’t made very clear – but it is sufficient enough to ensure an exchange of gifts. In 2013, for example, the College of Policing gave the Ministry of Interior a set of commemorative coins, worth £30. The year before, General Majjid Alzoman, of the Saudi Arabia police, gave the College a £10 ornamental coffee pot, a metal plaque and chocolates.

There is also the matter of the secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to ensure both states were elected to the UN Human Rights Council, according to leaked diplomatic cables.

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