11 freed from jail after aid group pays Dh600,000 blood money

An Indian aid organisation has spent Dh600,000 to secure the release of 11 men who were still in jail, long after completing their sentences.

September 14. Recently released Indian nationals from left to right, Srinivas Ambati (30), Anil Kumar (41) and Sakeer Hussein (36) photographed at the Indian Consulate. September 14, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National)
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DUBAI // An aid organisation has secured the release of 11 men stuck in jail long after completing their sentences by paying Dh600,000 in blood money that the prisoners could not pay.

The men were all imprisoned for their culpability in fatal accidents. A further two are expected to be released within a week, K Kumar, head of the Indian Community Welfare Committee (ICWC), said yesterday.

In an initiative called Project Eagle, to mark the ICWC's 10th anniversary, it set itself a target last June of a year to secure the 13 men's release.

Since then the organisation has raised a total of Dh729,000 as individuals, businessmen and companies wrote cheques from Dh20 to Dh130,000 after an appeal to the Indian community.

"It has taken 15 months but we have tried to solve the cases as quickly and amicably as possible," Mr Kumar said.

"Six of the 13 men have gone back to their old jobs and this has given them a new lease of life. We will continue to help people as long as the cases are genuine and not premeditated."

Sakeer Hussain Kutty, an electrician sentenced to three months over the death of a co-worker in an accident, was released last week after three years in jail.

"I will never forget my debt to these men, they will always be in my prayers," he said.

Since its inception in 2000, the ICWC has secured the release from prison of 45 men in blood-money cases.

A core team of four ICWC volunteers, all of whom hold full-time professional jobs, pay weekly visits to prison, negotiate with victims' families for lower blood-money settlements, talk to jail authorities and complete stacks of paperwork to pave the way for the release of prisoners.

"It is very important to urge the men to stay calm in prison, tell them to be patient, and convince them not to lose hope," Mr Kumar said.

"We do our best and don't give up. We knock on every door to solve cases as quickly as possible."

The ICWC has also taken up the case of three workers employed by an Ajman pest-control company. The men have been ordered to pay Dh400,000 in blood money for causing the death last year of two young children who were asleep in a neighbouring apartment when they sprayed deadly chemicals.

The neighbouring family had not been informed of the pest-control service and the workers were held responsible for the children's deaths.

A concert by the legendary sufi singer Zila Khan has been planned for October in Dubai to raise funds for the blood-money payments, Mr Kumar said.

Sanjay Verma, consul general of India in Dubai, described the cases the ICWC takes up as unfortunate accidents.

"All these men were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the ICWC helps to shorten their misery," he said.

"The volunteers take on psychological stress when dealing with victims' families who are coping with loss and bereavement."

Starting back at their old jobs is also crucial for the men the ICWC helps to release from prison.

Mr Kutty had been working for a removal company in Dubai when the accident that led to his imprisonment happened in June 2008.

He had reached out to switch on the radio in a van but turned on the ignition instead, and the vehicle jerked backwards, killing a co-worker.

He was released after the ICWC and his employer paid Dh200,000 in blood money.

"Knowing that I will work again and come back to Dubai is helping me and my family look to the future," he said yesterday.

A Dileep, general manager at E-movers, said the firm was happy he had returned. "He is a very good electrician and we were hoping to have him back," Mr Dileep said.

"We would never put a ban on him because we know he is a good worker and the accident could have happened to anyone."

Another Indian, Anil Kumar Sridharan, served more than a year in jail instead of a six-month sentence for a fatal traffic accident in January last year.

"I was very nervous when I got back to driving," said Mr Sridharan, who transports staff for a construction company in Dubai. "But getting my old job back was the best thing for me to get my confidence back."