Twenty Indians -- four in Oman and 16 in United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- are still lodged in prisons even after completing their jail terms, Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs Gen VK Singh has stated on Thursday.
Responding to a question raised by parliamentarian V Muraleedharan in the Rajya Sabha, VK Singh said, “There are four in Oman and 16 in UAE. However, due to stringent privacy laws prevailing in many countries, the local authorities do not share information on prisoners unless the person concerned consents to the disclosure of such information,” the minister said.
“Even countries which share information do not generally provide detailed information about the persons who have been imprisoned,” he added.
According to the minister, the process of release and repatriation of Indian nationals who complete their sentences in foreign prisons is dynamic and the number keeps changing. “Our Missions and Posts abroad provide all possible consular support and humanitarian and legal assistance on a case to case basis, for completing formalities by coordinating with local immigration authorities for early deportation of the Indians who have completed their jails terms,” he said.
The support includes issue of emergency certificates, if required, and also provision of airfare on a means-tested basis in deserving cases from the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF).
Bheem Reddy, a migrant rights activist in Hyderabad, said that other than just stating that there are 20 Indians languishing in jails even after completing term, they should initiate steps to release them and bring them home. “Most of the time, when we approach the ministry seeking help in freeing the jailed Indians in the Gulf countries, the response is tepid,” he noted.
Meanwhile, talking on the hassles in providing legal assistance for jailed Indians in the Gulf countries, Rafeek Ravuther, an Indian migrant rights activist, said that in the Gulf countries, lack of human and financial resources are the two main hurdles in handling the legal cases. However, he added that “both the Indian embassies or Civil Society Organisations have enough funds or human resources to handle cases."
“Every Indian embassy in the Gulf countries have a legal panel with empanelled lawyers. However, they are not much effective on the ground,” Rafeek alleged.
In February 2018, 62 Indians, many of whom were serving jail terms for over two decades, were released by the Oman government while Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Arab country.
Among the 62, five Keralites who were jailed on murder charges, were also released. Indian External Affairs Ministry, Indian Embassy in Oman and a few social workers had been following the case of jailed Indians tirelessly for the last few years.
Among the released 62, Santhosh Kumar and Shajahan, were jailed on ‘murder charges’ of two Omani security guards in 1997. The charges on the two Keralites were that they had allowed the convicts, a group of Pakistanis, to reportedly buy weapons for a robbery and murder from the Keralites’ shop in Oman.The Oman court had slapped a death sentence on the four Pakistanis involved in the case. When released in February 2018, Shajahan and Santhosh had completed 21 years in the jail.
In December 2018, the ministry had stated that “as per information available with the Ministry through our Missions/Posts, 8,445 Indian nationals are currently in jails in foreign countries.” In a document tabled in the parliament, there are 2,224 Indians jailed in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia tops the list with maximum number of Indians jailed. The UAE comes in second position with 1,606 Indians in jail and Nepal comes in third position with 1,065 Indians in jail. In Pakistan, there are 549 Indians jailed.