The death sentence awarded to 17 Indians by a Shariat Court in the United Arab Emirates has sent shock waves across Punjab, as 16 of them belong to the State.
Cutting across party lines, leaders have appealed to the Union government, especially Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to use diplomatic channels to save the men convicted of killing a Pakistani national.
It is reported that the Pakistani was killed in a fight over alleged illegal liquor business.
Dependents of all the 17 assembled at Jalandhar on Thursday under the aegis the Lok Bhalai Party (LBP), whose chief and the former Union Minister, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, sought immediate intervention as most of those convicted in the UAE were the sole breadwinners of their families back home.
Talking to reporters, Mr. Ramoowalia said that while a three-member delegation of the party would attempt to gain consular access to the convicted men, the LBP would approach the U.N. and major Muslim organisations, including the Dar-ul-Uloom, to prevent execution of the sentence. He sought expeditious action from the Union government as only 11 days were left for filing an appeal in a higher court in the UAE.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has also sought immediate intervention by the Prime Minister. In a letter to Dr. Singh, he requested that the Ministry of External Affairs be advised to provide the legal aid to these men. Similar sentiments were expressed by the president of the Punjab unit of the Congress, Mohinder Singh Kaypee.
The Chief Minister recalled that Punjabi labourers and skilled workers had made contributions towards infrastructure development in UAE and other Middle East countries in the last 25 years. He also said these Punjabi youth were the sole breadwinners of their families most of whom had mortgaged small landholdings to arrange their work visas.
Punjab's Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh and his wife, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, MP, argued that these 16 Punjabis had told their relatives that they had been framed in the case and had no direct or indirect involvement in the murder of the Pakistani national. The leaders said these people were from poor families and due to lack of proper legal support in UAE they had been awarded the death sentence based on concocted unsubstantiated evidence.
“It is unfortunate that our Embassy in UAE failed in its primary duties to provide legal assistance to the 17 Indians resulting in their implication in this false murder case,” they said in yet another letter to the Prime Minister.