x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Three-month prison sentence is now two years and counting

Man who cannot afford to pay blood money remains in prison two years after a freak accident killed his co-worker.

DUBAI // A van driver jailed for three months over a fatal accident is still in prison two years later because he cannot afford to pay compensation to the family of the man who died.

It is nearly three years since Sakeer Hussain Kutty reached across from the passenger seat and turned the key in the ignition of a parked van so he could listen to the radio.

Today, the 37-year-old Indian is still in prison because of what happened next: the van jerked backwards and hit a co-worker standing between the vehicle and a loading ramp at a Downtown Dubai office complex.

"I didn't know the van was in reverse gear and the driver had not put the handbrake on," said a distraught Kutty, speaking by telephone from Dubai Central Prison.

The 26-year-old victim was taken to hospital, where he died the same evening. Kutty was sentenced in January 2009 to three months imprisonment, a Dh10,000 fine and a Dh200,000 blood money settlement.

"Every day I think: if I didn't want to hear that music, none of this would have happened," he said. "Everything happened in seconds." Years later, a group of colleagues and aid workers are still struggling to raise Kutty's blood money. He worries that with each day behind bars, his chances of being released diminish. "I speak to so many people, but no one has any answers," said Kutty, who worked as an electrician for four years in Muscat before arriving in Dubai in 2006 for a Dh1,200-a-month job with a removal company.

"Where will I get Dh200,000? I came here to earn for my family but now I am in jail." According to Indian government figures, there are about 1,700 Indians in UAE jails. Kutty is among a number who have served longer than their sentences but remain in prison because blood-money payments are beyond their reach.

"In his heart, Sakeer feels he will die in jail," said Mohammed Mustafa, a colleague who visits him and launched radio appeals that have raised Dh8,000 towards the debt. "But this is nothing. Little by little, Sakeer feels all doors are closing. He cries a lot and we don't know what to do."

His case is one of 13 accident cases taken up last year by an aid group, the Indian Community Welfare Committee, which intervenes in cases where deaths were caused without premeditation. Volunteers have secured the release of nine prisoners over the past year by mediating with families for lower blood money.

"Sakeer's case is sad; it's a tough one. We have repeatedly tried to contact the victim's family in India," said K Kumar, the ICWC chairman. "We are still trying. No case is hopeless."

Inside the Dubai prison, Kutty's anxiety grows when he thinks of his wife, two sons and mother relying on handouts from relatives and friends.

"I was supposed to look after them," he said. "But I turned a key and reached here." In the village of Karikode in Kerala state in southern India, Kutty's wife Safia breaks down when talking about her husband.

"Life is miserable. How have I lived without him?" she said. "We pray every day. Maybe this Eid a Samaritan will come."

 

rtalwar@thenational.ae