At a hearing in the Appeals Court in Abu Dhabi, four teachers from the elite Al Rabeeh school testified in favour of E.K. Gangadharan, the worker from Kerala who was sentenced to death for allegedly raping a seven-year old Emirati school girl.
The allegation against Mr. Gangadharan (56), a cleaner who has been employed by the school for the last 32 years, was made by the girl’s parents who said that he raped their daughter in the school kitchen during the morning break.
Two British and two Emirati teachers gave evidence in court. An Arab language teacher said she used to teach the child every day and sensed nothing unusual in her behavior on April 14, the day the rape is alleged to have occurred.
She said the glassed kitchen is a much-used and centrally located area, in which nothing can be done in hiding. She also said she and the other teachers heard about the rape allegation only over the news.
The teacher is reported to have said: “The secretary’s office is there and it is never empty. There are always employees and parents around.”
The testimonies of three other teachers, which included the girl’s class supervisor, supported the Arab language teacher’s evidence. They said they do not believe the allegations against Mr. Gangadharan.
One of the teachers said she had known the cleaner and had been working with him every morning for the last nine years. If she had felt that there was something suspicious, she said, she would have taken her own daughter, who has been studying in the school for six years, out of school.
All four teachers said that there was nothing in the child’s behavior that day that suggested that she had been raped.
Case for acquittal strengthens
This hearing strengthens Mr. Gangadharan’s chances of getting an acquittal. However, even if this court acquits Mr. Gangadharan, he will have to go through two more levels of appeal, the first in the Federal Court of Appeal, and the second in the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court).
The hearing will continue on December 9 when the Judge will interview the schoolgirl.
Monday’s court hearings are a shot in the arm for the international campaign that has been mounted for the release of Mr. Gangadharan, led by Human Rights Watch, U.K.
“The evidence in the Appeals Court was compelling,” Jackie Kearns of Human Rights Watch U.K., told The Hindu.
“It is clear from witness statements that Mr. Gangadharan is innocent. He must be set free after the next hearing,” Ms. Kearns said.
An online petition addressed to the President of the United Arab Emirates, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and other senior government figures, for Mr. Gangadharan’s release, has already got 5,500 signatures, according to Human Rights Watch.
Speaking to The Hindu from Abu Dabhi, Mr. Gangadharan’s brother E.K. Haridasan said, “The hearings have given us some measure of comfort and relief. The testimonies of the four teachers show that there are people who are willing to speak up for my brother. All I have to say is that we want to bring my brother home safely.”