Murdered driver's family forgives his killers

Relatives' desire for vengeance tempered by Dh5m blood money and tradition that elders' decision must be accepted.

The family of a Pakistani driver who was beaten and burned to death a year ago says they have forgiven his killers and are ready to move on. A relative of Mohammed Hassan, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the family who are to receive Dh5 million (US$1.36m) in blood money struggled with how best to respond to the death of their loved one.

"At first there was a lot of anger and thoughts of revenge, but we didn't want to take matters into our own hand," the family member said. "We wanted to see justice take its course in the courts." Instead of taking revenge, both families agreed to settle the matter by asking for advice from religious and community elders in Pakistan and the UAE. The family member said that the elders' decision was final; tradition prevents the family from disagreeing with their judgment.

Both sides agreed that the accused should go through the proper legal channels of the UAE. "Every month, at least twice or thrice a month, they would approach [our] family and ask for forgiveness," Mr Hassan's relative said. "They sent their uncles, their cousins to say that the children were at fault but they asked for forgiveness." Mr Hassan, who was 34 when he died, was born in Makran, a coastal strip in the south of Balochistan, a province in Pakistan. Many of his family members settled in the UAE as early as 1940 and became immersed in the local culture.

Mr Hassan followed in 1992 when he was aged 17. He had no formal education, but a relative connected him with a family that employed him in their home. Within a few years he earned his driver's licence and became that family's chauffeur. He was assigned by the father, a prominent businessman, to drive two of his sons. They later became his killers. Mr Hassan often refused to let the boys drive the car and once kicked them out of his room, creating a rift between him and them, according to court records.

Just after 9pm on January 7, 2009, when most of the household members were attending a wedding in Dubai, the two brothers and a Russian friend took Mr Hassan for a walk. They told the prosecution that they hit him on the head and knocked him unconscious. In an attempt to conceal the crime, they chose to set Mr Hassan on fire, according to court documents. They poured petrol over him, at the back of the estate. One of the young men threw a cigarette on Mr Hassan to ignite a blaze. That failed. They then lit a tissue and threw it on Mr Hassan, and he was engulfed in flames.

The next morning, the younger son called his oldest brother and told him what had transpired the night before. The oldest brother then called their father, who called the police and told them that a crime had taken place in his house and that the police should arrest two of his sons. "He told the police that his sons had committed a crime and that they should come and get them," Mr Hassan's family member said.

The police arrived and gathered the remains of the body in a black rubbish bag, to be submitted to the coroner's office at Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre. Baluchis and Emiratis have strong ties that go back hundreds of years, the relative said. Given the actions of the accused family, with the father of the accused handing over his sons to the police and the boys' family making continued requests for forgiveness, Mr Hassan's family decided to consider their pleas.

"They did not offer money," the family member said. "They said they would be prepared to do anything. They just wanted us to forgive them. The family did everything right, and who are we not to forgive them?" The case was settled in court through the Sharia system known as diyaa, or blood money, after the victim's family agreed to forgive. Compensation was paid to the court by the killers' family; the victim's family has yet to claim it.

Because UAE law considers diyaa settlements as a pardon of a crime, The National is not publishing the identities of the accused. Blood money is often compared to the western system of financial compensation. Diyaa is always paid in accidental damages, such as those that might result from motor-vehicle accidents. If a driver accidentally kills a bystander, the driver must pay Dh200,000 to the victim's family, according to the Constitution.

Diyaa can also be used in cases of first-degree murder, such as that of Mr Hassan. For the killers to be pardoned, immediate family members of the victim must all agree and provide a signed statement to that effect. It is then up to the court to punish the killer with a sentence that ranges from one to three years in prison. The payments and pardon are a common part of a tribal justice system that existed in the Middle East long before the establishment of the courts.

"Tribal justice was more based on the wisdom of leaders and elders than it was based on written laws," said Abdul Kader al Hathami, an Emirati lawyer who has been practising in Abu Dhabi for 26 years. After the UAE drafted its Constitution in the 1970s and implemented laws and the court systems gradually, there has been less dependence on religious and community elders and more on the letter of the law.

But "elements of tribal justice are still a part of today's legal system", Mr al Hathami said. "There is still a heavy reliance on mediation outside of the courtroom." On December 31, the three men saw their sentences reduced by the Abu Dhabi Appeal Court to one year. Shortly after, they were released from prison. They could not be reached for comment. They have been forgiven by Mr Hassan's parents, wife and daughter.

"Their death will not bring him back," the family member said of the three young men. "If they spend the rest of their lives in jail that will not do anything. Not the money and not even if we hate them. It's time to move on."