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Seventeen sentenced to death for 'bootleg' murder

Seventeen Indian labourers are sentenced to death for killing a Pakistani man during a drunken clash between "bootleg" gangs.

SHARJAH // Seventeen Indian labourers were sentenced to death yesterday for killing a Pakistani man during a drunken clash between "bootleg" gangs. The Sharjah Sharia Court of First Instance found the men guilty of beating MN to death and wounding three others when a fight involving dozens of people broke out in the Saaja Industrial area in January of last year.

It is the largest number of defendants sentenced to death at one time in Sharjah, according to court officials, and comes a week after Sharjah Police arrested a gang of 18 Indians allegedly involved in the illegal alcohol trade on suspicion of kidnapping and killing rivals. In court yesterday, a panel of judges led by Judge Yaqoub al Hammadi ruled that the 17 men, aged 22 to 30, had all played a part in killing the Pakistani man by beating him with metal bars. His skull was fractured and he died from his injuries before the police arrived at the scene.

Three other Pakistani men were savaged in the attack and were taken to hospital with serious injuries. Police initially arrested 50 people for the brawl, which they said was a turf dispute between members of rival gangs that sell illegal liquor in and around labour camps. A police spokesperson said yesterday that only 17 of those arrested were charged; investigators found the others were not directly involved in attacking the dead man or the three other Pakistanis.

Blood tests taken after their arrests showed they had been drinking alcohol. According to the federal penal code, a sentence of death goes to appeal automatically. If the verdict is upheld by Sharjah Appeal Court, the case will be referred to the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. If the three judges there uphold the verdict, federal prosecutors will submit an execution order to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, whose signature is required before the men face the firing squad.

A police spokesman, who wished to remain anonymous, said the judges' decision would send a strong message to bootleg gangs whose disputes with rival outfits often flare into violence. "Almost every week a case of bootlegging is now reported from Sajja and [other] industrial areas," he said. "All cases involve the use of alcohol that is illegal in the emirate. A serious warning needs to be passed to these workers to stop the habit."

This problem is not confined to Sharjah. In an ongoing court case in Dubai, 13 bootleggers are accused of kidnapping two members of a rival gang and burying them alive. The gang is believed to have operated in Jebel Ali and allegedly used swords and knives to threaten others. Its members are also accused of waging war with other gangs to gain control of territory. In March 2008, 500 Indian and Pakistani workers clashed in fights sparked by the sale of illegal alcohol in Jebel Ali.

ykakande@thenational.ae myoussef@thenational.ae

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