JEDDAH (Reuters) - An Egyptian lawyer whose arrest on drug smuggling charges in Saudi Arabia last year caused a diplomatic row between Riyadh and Cairo was sentenced to five years in prison and 300 lashes on Tuesday, a witness present in court said.
The case has been closely watched by Egyptian activists who say Ahmed al-Gezawi was arrested because of his work documenting what he described as the poor treatment of Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia, which Riyadh denies. Rights groups say the Saudi legal system is unfair, another charge Riyadh denies.
Nearly 1,000 people gathered outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo last April after Gezawi was detained on arrival at Jeddah airport, with some hurling shoes and shouting insults directed at the kingdom’s rulers.
Riyadh, which already feared that its close relationship with Egypt risked being undermined by the 2011 revolution that toppled autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, recalled its ambassador.
But Cairo flew a high-level delegation to the Saudi capital within days to affirm its commitment to keeping ties strong. Cairo is a major recipient of Saudi aid.
Gezawi was charged with smuggling around 21,000 pills of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax into Saudi Arabia. His former lawyer - who quit the case because Gezawi failed to pay legal fees - has said the public prosecution was seeking the death penalty.
Two other men on trial on Tuesday, a Saudi and an Egyptian, were also sentenced to prison terms and lashes, the witness said.
Reporting by Asma Alsharif and Angus McDowall; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall