Indian rights workers visit UAE jails

Many Indian prisoners here will want to serve the remainder of their sentences in Indian prisons after a new treaty goes into effect, experts say.

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DUBAI // Officials from an Indian expatriate support group have visited prisons in Dubai and Sharjah to seek inmates' opinions on the new prisoner-swap deal signed by the two countries.

Narayana Swamy, the president of the Migrants Rights Council, said while some prisoners wished to serve the rest of their sentences in the UAE, all knew of the agreement and were "happy it has been signed".

"Some of them are eager to return to India and spend their remaining term in Indian jails," Mr Swamy said.

The Transfer of Sentenced Persons agreement signed by Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, and the Indian home minister P Chidambaram on November 23 is only being held up by "formalities", says the Indian ambassador, MK Lokesh.

"It will not take a long time," Mr Lokesh said.

There are about 1,200 Indians in UAE jails, the Indian Embassy says, mostly for petty offences such as alcohol-related crimes.

Mr Swamy said he and his colleagues - including the council's adviser Banda Surender Reddy and Raghuram Vallamsetty, the president of Voice of Indian Emigrants - spent about three hours talking to inmates at Al Awir Central Jail in Dubai.

"It was an emotional moment for many of them to see us in the jail," he said. "They told us they are missing their family members and want to see them when they go back to India.

"The only reason why they want to return is they can have a chance to meet their family members regularly. Some of them were in tears remembering their families."

Mr Swamy said the only links prisoners had to their homeland at the moment were newspapers.

"They read newspapers regularly and know about the latest developments across the globe," he said. "By paying Dh90 per month they are able to get regional Indian language newspapers in Telugu and Malayalam to read them daily."

Mr Swamy said he planned to meet Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, and Mr Chidambaram when he returned to India.

"We are planning to submit a petition to the government asking them to send an official delegation to collect details about prisoners who want to return to India," he said.

Mr Swamy said the group would also try to negotiate the release of six Indians from Karimnagar, in Andhra Pradesh, who are serving time in the UAE for the murder of a Nepalese man in 2008.

"We are trying to get in touch with the family of the murdered man so that the blood money can be arranged for the issue of a pardon letter," he said. "Most of these convicted men come from poor families and have no support system."

They are also trying to secure the release of another prisoner, who has served six years in Sharjah for a killing. They say the inmate, D Bucchanna, has become unstable and needs urgent help.

"We met the man in jail and he is mentally disturbed," said Mr Vallamsetty. "We are trying to involve the state government of Andhra Pradesh so that the blood money can be paid to the victim's family for his release."

He said the victim's family was also from Andhra Pradesh, making it easier to negotiate.

The group also visited labour camps in Sharjah and met workers who said they had not been paid for five months.