x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Witness fails to identify bootlegging suspects

"It makes the case stronger for us," says lawyer for Indian men appealing death sentences.

Relatives, politicians and friends of the 17 Indians on death row in Sharjah attend a news conference in Dubai. Jaime Puebla / The National
Relatives, politicians and friends of the 17 Indians on death row in Sharjah attend a news conference in Dubai. Jaime Puebla / The National

SHARJAH // The sole remaining witness against 17 Indian men on death row for killing another man in a brawl over bootlegged alcohol yesteday told a court that he could not identify any of the convicted men. MA, 31, an unemployed Pakistani, told the Sharjah Appeals Court that the other three witnesses to the attack had left the country and do not plan to return. It was the first time he had given evidence in court.

"I cannot identify any of the suspects ... It was dark and it was not possible to see their faces, but I got to know that they are from the Punjab from their language. I do not know any of them," MA told the court. The 17 men were found guilty in March of beating to death a Pakistani man, MK, and injuring three others during a fight in January 2009 in the Saaja industrial area of Sharjah. Bindu Suresh Chettur, one of the defence lawyers, said she was pleased with the outcome of the hearing yesterday. "It makes the case stronger for us," she said.

Mohammed Abdul al Satar, the representative of MK's family, told the three judges he had been given power of attorney on behalf of the family. "The family still want the punishment of the perpetrators and are not interested in any settlement," he told the court. MA said he and three friends, including the man who was killed, were walking when they came across 30 to 35 people who spoke Punjabi attacking one person, SR, whom he knew. The attackers then turned on MA and his friends, he said, thinking they were trying to rescue the man being beaten.

"I knew the guy they were hitting; it was the watchman of the workshop that my brother and I used to live in," MA said. "The guy was known for selling illegal alcohol and he had previously been involved in smaller arguments with some Punjabis. They thought we were coming to his rescue and started hitting us with swords, wood and metal rods. "Each one of us was attacked by at least six people and they refused to stop."

The beatings did not end until his three friends were unconscious, he said. Then the attackers left. A brother of one of the victims then arrived and tried to call the police, but could not communicate with them because of language differences. So he drove the four to get help, but discovered MK was dead. A forensics expert, Dr Mohammed Hijazi, said MK had been killed by three cuts on his head, which partially crushed his skull.The cuts, Dr Hijazi said, were caused by a hard, heavy object with a sharp edge such as a butcher's knife or a sword.

Severe injuries were also found in a joint of the victim's right foot and on the left side of his back, according to the forensics report. "Traces of several tools on the victims' bodies suggest that he was hit by several people," Dr Hijazi said. MK had been living in the UAE for six years and ran a carpentry workshop in Sharjah. He had one child and his family lives in Pakistan. Relatives of some of the convicted men attended court yesterday. The parents of TS, 23, said they had visited him in jail the day before.

"I didn't have a chance to talk to him in court yesterday," said his mother, Sukhwinder Kaur. "But I did see him from far away. I did speak to him in jail and that is a relief." TS arrived in the UAE two years ago after his family paid 80,000 Indian rupees (Dh6,500) for his visa to work as a labourer. "I don't know what happened between him and his company, but we stopped hearing from him frequently after he said he was in jail," his mother said.

Balbir Singh, TS's father, agreed that contact became less frequent. "We read about the verdict in the newspapers," Mr Singh said. "Then our lives turned upside down." The next hearing is on October 13, when a biology expert and an investigating police officer are to testify. Three earlier appeal hearings were postponed because there was no Punjabi-to-Arabic translator. On September 4, the last hearing, the Ministry of Justice provided a translator.

All 17 men deny any knowledge of the victim and any involvement in bootlegging. They said their confessions were extracted following severe beatings from police.