x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

All sides suffer if blood debts linger

The Catch-22 of prisoners behind bars, unable to pay blood-money, does no one any good. It's time to look for solutions.

Humayun Al Rahman, a 24-year-old from Pakistan, has been in a Dubai prison for four years after failing to pay Dh2m worth of blood money to the families of 10 people killed in a traffic accident he caused. He has already served longer than his original sentence, three years, and was pardoned in 2008.

As with similar cases, Mr Al Rahman now finds himself in a dizzying Catch-22: as The National reported at the weekend, he cannot be released from prison without paying blood money but he cannot make the money while he is in jail.

Diyya, or blood money, is meant to be a punishment as much as it is compensation for a victim's family. It is a legal requirement that corresponds to a system of damages adopted in many countries around the world. But the situation in the UAE, where people linger in prison because they are unable to pay their debts, does not benefit anyone.

If a person cannot pay in the first place, then the situation becomes worse when they are in prison and lose their jobs. In Mr Al Rahman's case, his debt is so high he might remain in prison for many years to come. But why couldn't those convicted of crimes be allowed to work outside prison, earning money to be paid in instalments? Unfortunately in most cases the only salvation is if the money is paid by charitable people or organisations.

Authorities must consider other ways to prevent such Catch-22 situations from happening, such as by mediating between families to reduce the required amounts, encouraging charities to direct funds to such situations or requiring companies to insure or pay for injuries or death caused by their employees during work.

It is unclear whether Mr Al Rahman was insured for such cases. If his car was not, should his company not have sought to address this? And if it was, why hasn't the insurance company paid Mr Al Rahman's debt? It it no secret that insurance companies in the UAE - and the world over - will look for loopholes to escape payment. But when such practices cost someone their freedom it is clear the system is broken and in desperate need of repair.