Pact between UAE and India could send prisoners home

Human rights and welfare groups yesterday welcomed an anticipated agreement that would allow Indians imprisoned in the UAE to serve their jail terms at home.

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DUBAI // Human rights and welfare groups yesterday welcomed an anticipated agreement that would allow Indians imprisoned in the UAE to serve their jail terms at home. The deal was likely to be completed over the next few months, said MK Lokesh, the Indian Ambassador to the UAE. Details of the agreement are still being worked out, but it is believed many of the 1,300 Indian prisoners in the UAE could be affected.

"In principle, prisoners who have already been sentenced can then request to undergo their sentences in India," Mr Lokesh said. "This agreement is taking into account humanitarian considerations of a crime being committed in a foreign country," Mr Lokesh said. "It is to facilitate normal humanitarian practices." Another senior Indian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agreement would not cover prisoners serving life sentences.

The agreement was backed by social and human rights groups in the region and in India. Activists said the agreement would signal stronger ties between the two nations. Sonal Mehta, a Gujarat-based human rights activist, said the families of convicted prisoners would be overjoyed. "Most families with relatives in UAE jails are illiterate and poor. They would have very little chance of meeting them if not for this," said Ms Mehta, head of Eklavya, an organisation that was involved in prisoner transfers between Pakistan and India two years ago.

"This is a good change, a positive thing. Of course, there are questions of morality involved and the sort of crime they committed, but if they come to India at least they will see a familiar face," she said. The Indian Community Welfare Committee (ICWC) in Dubai backed the plan. The group pledged last month to raise Dh2.6 million by the end of the year to pay off blood money owed by 13 prisoners in Dubai jails.

K Kumar, the chairman of the ICWC, said the bilateral agreement would not affect the community's blood money fund, since it was created for Indian prisoners who had already completed their sentences. "The [planned] agreement will have to be on a case-to-case basis and look at individual applications from prisoners on merit," Mr Kumar said. "It will not cover prisoners involved in commercial fraud or bounced cheques, because these payments will have to be followed up."

He said there would be many prisoners who would not want to serve their remaining jail time in Indian prisons, as they may have hidden their conviction from their families. "There is always a stigma that comes with being in jail. A lot of people who don't want their family to know will not want to go back to India," he said. "Of course, there will also be some prisoners who will want the solace of meeting with family back home."

G Vijayan, a founder member of the United Malyalee Association, also supported the idea. "I have seen prisoners crying to go back home. They cry to see their children, their old parents," he said. "They will want to go back. It is a good idea. After many years here in a foreign country, they [prisoners] will want to go back to their own country."