DUBAI // Lawyers and prison workers are calling for a new approach to the payment of blood money. They say current arrangements involve a Catch 22 in which all parties lose out.
Dubai Central Prison currently houses 23 prisoners who have served their jail sentences yet remain behind bars facing indeterminate periods of incarceration as they cannot afford to pay their blood money settlements.
Thirteen of the 23 were jailed for causing fatal traffic accidents, while six were jailed for unintentionally causing someone else's death. The crimes of the remaining four have not been specified.
Legal experts point out that the prisoners all have two things in common - no release date and no way of paying the bereaved families of those who have died. The experts point out that to pay the blood money, the prisoners need a job, yet to get a job they must be free - and to be freed they need to pay the blood money.
Prison workers who spoke to The National suggested the inmates should be able to pay their dues in some other way - such as through performing civic duties - or that the money could be raised through traffic fines.
Among the prisoners is the Pakistani driver Humayun Al Rahman, who was transporting workers from their labour accommodation in Jebel Ali to their workplace in Al Waraqaa when he lost control of his vehicle and crashed into another minibus. The accident, which took place on December 14, 2006, resulted in the death of ten people.
Mr Al Rahman was sentenced to three years in jail and received a pardon in August 2008. However, as per the UAE penal code a person who causes the death of another must pay Dh200,000 per person in blood money before being released. Mr Al Rahman - who used to earn a monthly salary of Dh1,800 - says he has no idea of how he will raise the Dh2 million needed for his release. He is not alone. MY, a 31-year-old Pakistani, caused a fatal road crash that killed two people. He finished his sentence in November 2009, but remains in jail owing Dh400,000 in blood money.
"These people are in a worse situation than those sentenced to life," said Nojood Othman, a psychologist at the humanitarian care division of the prison. "Life-term prisoners have a bigger chance of freedom and they know how long they are staying. But these prisoners are suffering psychologically from their stay in prison, they feel helpless and after a while give up.
"The majority of them are not even criminals - they accidentally killed someone, so why are there no alternatives for them?"
Mrs Othman, whose work involves raising donations to help the prisoners pay their dues, said options that the authorities should consider include raising the money from traffic fines or making the prisoners serve a period of civic duty.
Lieutenant Faisal Al Shehi, head of the humanitarian care section, agreed with the idea of civic duty, but said insurance companies also had a role to play.
"More pressure should be exerted on insurance companies to pay the blood money. In the majority of the cases the insurance company manages to get away with not paying due to their very complicated contracts."
Lawyers question the reasoning behind keeping such prisoners in jail far beyond the completion of their sentences.
"The whole idea behind imprisoning a person is to force him to pay - but if he cannot afford to pay what is then the purpose of keeping him imprisoned," asked Hamdy Al Shiwi of Hamdy Al Shiwi advocate and legal consultants.
"It is illogical to keep a person in prison without end," said Yousif Hammad of Hammad & Associates Advocates and Legal Consultants. "And it is not logical to expect someone to pay the money while he is imprisoned. The law needs to be amended."
A more flexible approach, said Mr Hammad, would benefit both prisoners and the bereaved families.
"It is a win-win situation for everyone if the prisoner is released as it is easier for them to acquire the blood money. That means relatives of the deceased will get their money and the prison does not get overburdened by prisoners who have already served their sentences."