Edinburgh dad stuck in Saudi jail after pilgrimage mishap

The Uddin family are very worried about Kausar. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The Uddin family are very worried about Kausar. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A DAD of three has been left languishing in prison after being beaten by police following a misunderstanding during a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Kausar Uddin, 47, from Sighthill, travelled to Mecca last month with his wife, three children and a group from Blackhall Mosque to take part in Umrah – a Muslim pilgrimage.

Kausar Uddin.  Picture: Ian Rutherford

Kausar Uddin. Picture: Ian Rutherford

READ MORE: The recent update on Kausar Uddin

But during the final prayer of the day on Monday, February 22, Mr Uddin was caught up in the pushing and shoving of the crowd within Islam’s most sacred mosque, Al-Masjid al-Haram.

Family and eyewitnesses say Mr Uddin, who owns the Eastern Masala takeaway in Leith and drives a taxi, tripped and reached out to grab the nearest person in order to steady himself – which happened to be a police officer.

Misinterpreting what had happened, the officer began beating the dad with a baton. As Mr Uddin raised his hands to defend himself, a swarm of police arrived “within seconds”, dragged him off and allegedly beat him up.

Family say he was taken to hospital and later to a local police station, before being moved to a nearby prison. During the ordeal, his passport was seized.

Stuck in a foreign country they knew little about, his wife Alaya and three children Kaulsom, 17, Al-Ebrahim, 17, and Al-Esmail, eight, found themselves unable to contact their husband and dad and unable to secure his release.

As the days passed and their desperation mounted, Alaya contacted family friend Rizwan Raza back in Edinburgh to tell him what had happened.

Mr Raza, an accountant from Craiglockhart, immediately got on the phone to the Foreign Office and local MP Joanna Cherry in an attempt to get help.

Helpless and alone, Mr Uddin’s family were advised by the Foreign Office and British Embassy to fly home on Sunday, February 28, before their visas expired.

With the help of a friend of a friend who spoke Arabic, they were able to see Mr Uddin in prison for just five minutes that night before travelling to the airport to board a plane back to Scotland.

It was an emotional farewell – Kaulsom said her dad looked underfed, tired and ill.

To make matters worse, while still in Saudi Arabia the family had been told by relatives that their home on Broomhouse Road had been broken into and Mr Uddin’s taxi stolen.

They arrived back in Edinburgh to find their door smashed in. Police Scotland later found the missing taxi on nearby Stenhouse Street West, abandoned and with its lights on, but thankfully undamaged.

Towards the end of last week, Mr Uddin was able to make two phone calls home to his wife and children from jail – allegedly by bribing guards.

His frightened calls revealed things were not improving. He had been put on trial on Monday, February 29, without proper legal representation and sentenced to 35 days behind bars for assaulting a policeman – despite the officer in question apparently retracting the charge.

Audibly shaken, he described the prison’s conditions. He was stuck in a room with 500 other prisoners, he said. There was no room to sleep. His complaints of feeling unwell went ignored. To top it all off, he had been told he could face a re-trial and up to two years in prison – a move his outraged family insist is simply a naked attempt to scare him into paying a hefty bribe to get out.

Friend Rizwan Raza said: “He phoned to say, ‘Guys I need you to get me out of here. I’m really not well. They’re not interested in anything I say. If it costs money, just get me out of here. Because I know what they’re after – it’s money.

“‘Whatever it costs, just pay it and get me out of here. Get a loan, do whatever you need to do. Sell my taxi’. That’s what his own words were: ‘Sell my taxi. Just get me out of here’.”

Speaking to the News, daughter Kaulsom, a sixth-year pupil at Forrester High School, told how she came home from school on Wednesday last week to find her mum in tears.

She said: “Mum was crying and I came home from school at lunch. I told my teacher what was going on, so she gave me the rest of the week off to look after mum.

“[My mum is] a mess. She keeps getting phone calls from family and they are like, ‘Why aren’t you doing anything?’ She feels helpless.”

She said the atmosphere at home over the past couple of weeks had been “tense”, adding: “You hear the phone ringing almost every ten minutes because someone wants an update.

“But if we don’t have an update we can’t really tell them anything – and if we did have an update, we would have called them. It just feels frustrating.

“Our dad’s our only source of income. Without him we have no income at the moment. That’s been quite difficult as well.”

Friends and family describe Mr Uddin as a religious and easy-going family man. They insist there is “no chance” he assaulted anyone. Mr Raza, who has known him for almost 30 years, said: “He’s a very simple person. He’s not big on the entrapments of life. He lives a very simple life. He’s religious. He has never been in trouble.

“He has his taxi. He’s done very well for himself. He’s got the takeaway. He’s the last person you would expect to assault a policeman. No chance. He doesn’t even swear – that’s how religious he is. He’s a regular mosque-goer. He prays five times a day. This is so uncharacteristic.”

Along with Mr Uddin’s family, he is now calling on the Foreign Office and politicians to take urgent action and bring the dad home to Edinburgh.

“He’s got a wife whose sister has just had a heart op,” he said. “He’s got three children who are worried stiff. His daughter can’t concentrate in school – she’s said, ‘look, this is too much for me’.

READ MORE: Edinburgh man faces wait in Saudi Arabia jail

“And he’s got an eight-year-old kid who can’t sleep at night. And when they got back, the house had been broken into. What sort of mental state are you in? And my concern is that nobody is doing anything about this.

“I’ve known Kausar for 26 years. He pays his taxes, he’s lived here – what’s he done wrong? He’s got a British passport. For God’s sake, somebody must be able to help him.” Ms Cherry’s office said Mr Uddin’s detention in Saudi Arabia was “deeply concerning” and her team had been “in contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on a daily basis”.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman declined to go into the details of the case, but said: “Our staff are providing assistance to a British national in Saudi Arabia following their arrest in February.

“We will remain in contact with their family and local authorities.”

alistair.grant@jpress.co.uk