x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

List of most wanted for prisoner swap

Indian diplomats will soon compile a list of UAE prisoners who can serve the remainder of their sentences in their homeland.

DUBAI // Indian diplomatic missions will soon compile a list of prisoners in the UAE who can complete their sentences in their homeland.

The move follows a prisoner-transfer treaty that was signed, but has not yet been ratified, between the UAE and India in November last year.

"We will undertake an informal survey within a few days and talk to prisoners who want to go back," said MK Lokesh, the Indian ambassador.

"This is to assess the situation … and gather information on who can go, what are their crimes. This is to also inform some people who may not know about the treaty."

Mr Lokesh said the purpose of the list was to get an accurate picture on the number of people who could take advantage of the treaty.

"We cannot, however, say when the survey will be complete," he said.

The Transfer of Sentenced Persons agreement, signed by Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Minister of Interior, and the Indian home minister P Chidambaram, allows convicted prisoners to complete their sentences in their homelands.

It is not expected to apply to convicts on death row, those accused of financial crimes or those who have to pay blood money.

About 1,200 Indian nationals are estimated to be in UAE jails for murder, drugs and petty crimes, which include drinking and illegally selling alcohol. Two Emiratis are in Indian jails but are yet to be convicted of any crime.

Mr Lokesh said several Indian convicts had sought details of the treaty's terms and eligibility from mission staff, who make regular prison visits.

"They have been making enquiries about the agreement," he said.

Both countries must work out the final details of the agreement before it can go into effect. Indian authorities say this could take at least three months.

"It has to be routed through the UAE Ministry of Justice and the Indian home ministry," Mr Lokesh said.

Rajnish Kwatra, the undersecretary for prison reforms at the Indian home ministry, said: "It has to be published in our official gazette. The instruments will then be exchanged at the highest level by the heads of state."

Mr Kwatra said New Delhi, which has a prisoner swap treaty with a t11 countries, usually refuses "paedophiles, repeat offenders, serial killers, psychopaths".

It also excludes those charged with terrorism or other security crimes.

Mr Kwatra said the delay was due to the involvement of several agencies.

"This time can be utilised to get a head start … to put in place a system to check who is behind bars and put an advisory on the agreement," he said. "Everybody should make an effort to identify people."

Repatriating prisoners could take between six months and two years.

Inmates said they were anxiously waiting for the treaty to take effect and to find out if they were eligible.

"We want to check if we can go back," said CR, who was convicted of murder and who has served 10 years at Al Aweer Central Jail in Dubai. "We want to know where we will be transferred.

"We haven't been given these details. Many of us are suffering from depression as no one is here for us. I hope to get transferred as soon as possible."

Another prisoner said he also preferred to serve the rest of his time in India.

"I want to be closer to my family," said BM, who was jailed for murder five years ago. "I was hoping to see my father before he died but that didn't happen.

"I hope the treaty is implemented soon so I can inform my family whether or not I can spend the rest of the time back in India."

pkannan@thenational.ae