ABU DHABI // A Dubai businessman has stepped in to help 17 prisoners held on death row for killing a man in a brawl over the sale of bootleg alcohol. SP Singh Oberoi has paid for air tickets from India and other expenses such as visa fees for family members of several of the men.
The mother of one prisoner and the wife of another have already visited them in jail. Another family arrived this week to visit one of the men before all 17 appear in Sharjah appeals court tomorrow. "All these men are from very poor families," said Mr Oberoi, chairman of the Apex group of companies. "I kept hearing of so many such cases that I decided it was time to help them in some way." This is the second case in which Mr Oberoi has intervened to help Indian prisoners sentenced to death in Sharjah.
He helped to arrange blood-money payments last month on behalf of PK, KL and TS, all from the north Indian state of Punjab, and also convicted of killing a man in a bootlegging dispute. Mr Oberoi heard of the case while on a goodwill prison visit to provide Indian inmates with phone cards to call home. All three convicted men are aged between 22 and 24, as was their victim, VS, Mr Oberoi said. "They were all living in the country illegally, having run away from their employers or having been abandoned by their employers, and they had resorted to such illegal business," he said.
A court approved an agreement between the families of the killers and the victim, brokered by Mr Oberoi, last week. The three men will serve five years for murder and two years for bootlegging. They have already spent two years in prison. Mr Oberoi travelled to Punjab several times this year to meet all the families. "The condition of the victim's family is very bad," he said. VS supported his entire family with his earnings in the UAE, Mr Oberoi said. He left behind his father, who is an autorickshaw driver, two unmarried sisters and a younger brother.
"He was the only one that earned so I had to tell the father that his son was never coming back, and convince him to accept the blood money," Mr Oberoi said. He declined to disclose the amount. After the families agreed to meet him, he approached the village panchayat, a group of elders chosen by villages to represent their community. Traditionally, they settle disputes between individuals and across villages.
Members of the three men's families formally offered an apology to the victim's family before an agreement was reached. Now Mr Oberoi hopes he can provide similar help to the families of the 17 men appearing in court tomorrow. They were found guilty in March of beating to death a Pakistani man and injuring three others during a fight in January 2009 in the Saaja Industrial area of Sharjah. Three earlier appeal hearings were postponed because there was no Punjabi-to-Arabic translator. On September 4, their last hearing, a translator was provided by the Ministry of Justice.
The 17 men were brought into the court in three groups and asked individually to explain what they knew about the case, the dead man and their confessions. All denied any knowledge of the victim. They also denied being involved in bootlegging. They said they had never spoken to a public prosecutor and that their confessions were extracted following severe beatings from police.