x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Sharjah's 17 bootleg murderers who escaped death-row arrive in India

17 men sentenced to death were pardoned after paying Dh3.4m blood money, but civil cases stopped release until hotelier raised more funds.

Sixteen of the freed men at Dubai airport last night with S?P Singh Oberoi, centre, the hotelier who helped to raise the blood money. Courtesy of S?P Singh Oberoi
Sixteen of the freed men at Dubai airport last night with S?P Singh Oberoi, centre, the hotelier who helped to raise the blood money. Courtesy of S?P Singh Oberoi

DUBAI // More than a year after being pardoned from death row, 17 Indian men were reunited with their families in Punjab today.

They were sentenced to death for the murder of Pakistani Misri Khan in 2009 during a brawl over bootlegging in the Saaja industrial area of Sharjah.

After paying Dh3.4 million in blood money to the victim's family, they were pardoned and were due to be freed in 2011.

But new civil suits brought against them delayed their release until Monday, and they finally arrived in New Delhi this morning.

"We didn't really think we were leaving the UAE," said Kuldeep Singh, 28, one of the men, speaking from India.

"Two or three times before we were told we were leaving and then it would be cancelled. Even when I was in the airport, I was really scared and still in doubt. But when we finally sat on the flight, I started believing that we were going home to see our families."

Mr Singh came to the UAE as a construction worker in 2008. He was reunited with his family at the Golden Temple, a prominent Sikh gurdwara, or house of worship, in Amritsar, Punjab, today.

He and the 16 others offered prayers at the temple before setting out to their hometowns.

"I am very happy I will meet my two children, wife and parents at last at the Golden Temple," said Kashmir Singh, 31, who came to the UAE in 2007 as a construction worker.

"It all happened so quickly that I couldn't understand what was happening. I just want to spend all my time with my family. I will never leave them again. I will find work in India, close to my family."

The men were sentenced to death in March 2010 by the Sharjah Court of First Instance. In September 2011, the Appeals Court commuted their death sentence to two years – less time than they had served – and ordered their deportation.

The decision was taken after the victim's family forgave them in exchange for Dh3.4m diyaa money – one of the largest settlements seen by the court.

But the Public Prosecution referred the Appeal Court's judgment to the Federal Supreme Court, saying the ruling had not taken into account the plight of men injured in the brawl and charges of selling alcohol. Only the bootlegging charges were reviewed and the men were sentenced to six months in jail, time they had already served.

A travel ban was imposed because of a separate compensation case of Dh1.5m filed by two Pakistanis who were injured. Last month, Sharjah Civil Court ordered the 17 to pay them Dh100,000 as compensation.

S?P Singh Oberoi, a Dubai-based hotelier, paid the money. He had also helped raise the Dh3.4m. Another Dh17,000 was also paid to remove the travel ban.

"Within four hours, the Sharjah jail authorities completed all the procedures," Mr Oberoi said.

Dharampal Singh, 32, said he hoped to find work laying roads in India, as he did in Sharjah.

"I never thought I'd see this day," he said. "My family will never let me go away from them to work again. I am also happy to be with them."

pkannan@thenational.ae