Scots father returns home to Edinburgh after Saudi jail ‘nightmare’

Kausar Uddin back in Broomhouse Road, Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Kausar Uddin back in Broomhouse Road, Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson

A DAD of three left to languish in a Saudi Arabian jail following a misunderstanding has finally made it back to Edinburgh.

Kausar Uddin, 48, from Sighthill, was imprisoned at the beginning of the year after being accused of assaulting a police officer in Mecca.

The takeaway owner and taxi driver was allegedly beaten by police and endured nightmarish conditions behind bars for three-and-a-half months.

He then spent another five months under “house arrest”, battling to get home after his passport was confiscated by officials.

Speaking exclusively to the Evening News from his family home on Broomhouse Road, Mr Uddin described his time in prison as “hell” – and said he was glad to be back.

But he was philosophical about his ordeal, insisting: “You have to accept it, whatever happens. Muslims believe that whatever comes is from God. Everything happens for a reason.”

Mr Uddin travelled to Mecca with his wife, three children and a group from Blackhall Mosque at the beginning of this year.

The family were looking forward to taking part in Umrah – a Muslim pilgrimage. But things were about to take a horrifying turn for the worse.

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.

Recalling that fateful day, the dad explained that he had tried to move into an area that was closed off and was promptly collared and slapped by a policeman.

Surprised, he reached out in self-defence, grabbing hold of the officer to steady himself. This was misinterpreted as an attempted assault.

The policeman then allegedly began beating Mr Uddin with a baton, and another officer soon joined in.

Things quickly escalated. Mr Uddin 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.

His desperate family found themselves unable to contact their husband and dad and unable to secure his release. And things were about to get even worse.

Forced to fly home before their visas expired, Mr Uddin’s family heard he had been put on trial on Monday, February 29, without proper legal representation. He was sentenced to 35 days behind bars for assaulting a policeman, despite the officer in question apparently retracting the charge.

In the end, Mr Uddin would spend a total of three-and-a-half months behind bars before being released – and a further five months battling to get his passport back.

Speaking to the News, he described the horrific conditions he was kept in. For the first three weeks, he was in a large room crammed full of more than 500 people.

His fellow prisoners chain-smoked so heavily that fumes filled the air. Police beat those who complained. Fights frequently broke out among the prisoners.

As Mr Uddin does not speak Arabic, communication was nearly impossible.

He said it was “like hell”, adding: “You can’t imagine the smoke. You couldn’t see people’s faces. Every minute, people were fighting.

“One minute, a fight would start from that side. And then it would start at this side. I couldn’t sleep properly. I was just walking around and around the place. Some people would be sleeping beside the toilet, in water.

“Some people were mentally not well. They should have been going to the hospital. They should have been in another section.”

If a prisoner wanted to use a bunk bed, Mr Uddin said they were required to “rent” one out for the night using cash sent in by their family and friends.

Otherwise, inmates were forced to sleep on thin mattresses placed in an open corridor. “It was one bed, two people,” he recalled. After complaining to the British Council, the dad was moved to a non-smoking section of the jail, where conditions improved.

But despite complaining of chest pains and headaches, medical attention was not forthcoming.

“In the jail, the police don’t listen to what you’re saying,” Mr Uddin said. “I told them I wanted to see the doctor. I was sick. They just said, ‘Tomorrow’.”

Criticising Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Mr Uddin said he had met others in prison who were being held without explanation.

He said he felt anger at the time, but added: “My anger did not work in there. I just had to accept it.

“I never thought I’d never get out. I never thought that way. Other people became very miserable, but I never felt miserable. Why should I? I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Family friend Rizwan Raza, an accountant from Craiglockhart, spent the long months of Mr Uddin’s imprisonment tirelessly campaigning for his release.

He said: “He always thought, ‘I don’t know how long it will be, but I will be out. Because I’ve not committed a crime. I’ve not killed anybody.’ I think part of that is due to his faith – his belief.

“When he was released, he was told he’d get his passport back within a week. That process took four-and-a-half months.

“He was technically under house arrest [at a friend’s house in Saudi Arabia]. He wasn’t allowed out. He wasn’t allowed to go to the shops.

“He was basically just told to sit in the house and wait for his passport to arrive.

“The Foreign Office were a big letdown for us. All they did was email back and forward. They didn’t do anything.

“I’m not asking them to bend the rules. I was asking them to try and protect a British citizen. They couldn’t do that. ‘Toothless’ would be being too kind to them.

“He fell ill quite a few times. He told the police, ‘I feel really ill’. They weren’t interested.

“We had to get the Foreign Office to intervene – that’s the one thing they were able to do. Even then it took a few days.”

Drinking coffee in the front room of his Edinburgh home, Mr Uddin said he was “very happy” to be back with his wife Alaya and three children Kaulsom, 18, Al-Ebrahim, 19, and Al-Esmail, eight.

The family were forced to sell his takeaway – Eastern Masala in Leith – while he was in Saudi Arabia, and the bank have been issuing threats about missed payments on his mortgage.

But the dad is determined to get back to work in his taxi and return to normality. Although he admitted: “I can never forget it. It can’t be easily forgotten.”

Mr Raza added: “It was really tough on him and his family. Even now he has nightmares about it.”

alistair.grant@jpress.co.uk