x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Wedding arson death sentence upheld

As Kuwaiti appeals court confirms execution, survivors in need of treatment say they have yet to receive aid promised by government.

Waheed, 4, endured three months of treatment for burns, and needs further plastic surgery which he must seek in Europe.
Waheed, 4, endured three months of treatment for burns, and needs further plastic surgery which he must seek in Europe.

KUWAIT CITY // The Court of Appeals yesterday upheld a death sentence against the woman found guilty of starting a fire at the wedding tent celebration of her husband's second wife last year, killing 57 women and children.

Families of the victims used the increased media interest in the trial this week to ask the government to provide more money and better medical care for their relatives. Scores more women and children were injured when the packed tent burned down in the tribal area of Jahra in August, leaving a pile of charred bodies where the partygoers had died in a scramble for the door. "Of course I'm disappointed, this is not what I was expecting," said Zaid al Khabbaz, the lawyer of the accused woman, Nasra al Enezi, after the judge, Faisal Khuraibet, confirmed the death sentence.

The Court of First Instance had sentenced Ms al Enezi to death - which is by hanging in Kuwait - in March. She was not present to hear the judge's ruling in the Court of Appeals, but her lawyer vowed to fight on in the Supreme Court. Mr al Khabbaz said the woman did not start the fire or douse the tent with a flammable liquid, and a previous confession linking her to the fire was made under duress.

The lawyer said there was no material evidence to convict the woman, who was 23 at the time, and expected the charges of premeditated murder and starting a fire with the intent to kill to be reduced to manslaughter and the woman to receive a jail sentence of between 15 years and life. Partygoers in the tent were celebrating the marriage of Ms al Enezi's husband to a second wife. It was erected on a patch of land in a housing estate surrounded by buildings with one small exit, conditions that the defence believes contributed to the high death toll. The fire led to a government clamp down on illegally pitched tents.

After the disaster, the emir announced that each of the families of the deceased would receive 10,000 Kuwaiti dinars (Dh126,000) and of the injured, 5,000 dinars, and noted that the country's generous welfare system provides nationals with free medical care in Kuwait and money for treatment abroad. But the families of the injured said at a press gathering in Jahra on Tuesday that many have still not received the money and are waiting for permission from the ministry of health to send their relatives overseas.

"We didn't see any money for the injured. So far, it's just talking," said Hayel al Shammari, 33, whose mother and sister-in-law died in the fire. Mr al Shammari's two sisters were also left with burns to nearly 50 per cent burns of their bodies and his deceased sister-in-law's son, Waheed, 4, has severe burns covering his body and head and suffers from psychological trauma. Waheed underwent three months of treatment in a Lebanese hospital, which was paid for by the ministry of defence because his father works there. Mr al Shammari said the boy still needs plastic surgery in Europe.

Other families were not as fortunate in their treatment options. Faris abu Naif, a paramedic whose wife was injured in the fire and is still afraid of the smell of cigarettes or coals, has been trying to gather the names of the victims who are dispersed throughout Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to collectively ask their governments for assistance. Mr abu Naif said the services in Kuwaiti government hospitals are below that of private hospitals, and the waiting times are so long that he still spends much of his time seeking treatment for his wife.

He said he is still waiting for the ministry of health to give him permission to get government-funded treatment overseas. "Now we're fighting for the rights of the victims. We search on the internet for the best hospitals in the world. They are in places like Germany and France, but they are very expensive. We need hotels and translators," he said. "We are tribal, we have our dignity and we can't ask for money - but right now we have no choice. The Kuwaiti government should not forget the victims and they should help us out with money."

The ministry of health was unavailable for comment about the treatment of the fire's victims. Despite their horrific injuries, and lost friends and relatives, those who were linked with the disaster are divided on what punishment is suitable for the woman who has been found guilty. When asked if he wanted the woman to be executed, Mr al Shammari said: "Look at my nephew. What do you think? We have to react."

But on hearing the outcome of the woman's second trial, Mr abu Naif's wife, Umm Naif, said even though she was happy when she heard Ms al Enezi had been sentenced to death in the first trial, she now believes that a woman should not be hanged in Kuwait. jcalderwood@thenational.ae