Non-Resident Keralites languishing in jail in foreign countries will finally have some legal respite. The Department of Non Resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA), a Government of Kerala department that looks into the grievances of Keralites settled abroad, has begun the process of appointing legal liaison officers. These officers will help Malayalis imprisoned abroad negotiate the criminal system and overcome legal and language barriers while doing so.
Speaking to TNM, NORKA CEO Harikrishnan Nampoothiri said, â€śMany Malayalis abroad are put in jail for minor offences, and they are not given timely legal assistance. Also thereâ€™s a language barrier, we want to break all these barriers. This is why we are appointing legal aid officers under Pravasi Legal Aid Cell, who will provide assistance in form of legal advice, counselling and helping them to file representations.â€ť
The legal aid services can be availed by those Malayalis in jail abroad on valid passports and visas, and by their family members. It cannot be availed by those on visiting visas, umrah or haj visas.
NORKA has put out an invitation of interest to lawyers and advocates to enrol as legal liaison officers. Those applying must have an Indian law degree, be fluent in Malayalam and the language of the country they wish to become a liaison for, in addition to being well-versed and experienced in negotiating the legal system of the country they wish to be a liaison for. They must also have experience of at least two years as a practicing advocate in Kerala and two years of experience of working amongst a lawyers group or institute in the respective foreign country.
NORKA intends to facilitate these services in the GCC countries, that is, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman, in addition to Iraq, South-East Asian and African countries.
A 2018 written reply filed by the Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh in response to a question in the Lok Sabha, said that there are over 7700 Indians in jails in 77 different foreign countries, and news reports indicate 17 percent of those are Keralites. Saudi Arabia and the UAE hold the maximum number of Indian prisoners, and news outlets report that of the 3460 Indians jailed there, 35 percent are Malayalis. However, NORKA says that it does not have an official record of the total number of Malayalis in jails abroad.
Speaking to TNM, lawyer Manu Sebastian said that given the high number of Malayalis imprisoned in jails abroad, this is a step in the right direction. He points out some of the difficulties Malayalis imprisoned face in accessing legal aid in foreign countries. â€śMost of these people belong to the working class, and are not in a position to access legal aid there. They are not highly educated, and in some cases, they may not have their passports, as their passports might have been impounded by the local sponsor. They also have no knowledge of the local regulations and language.â€ť
He also discusses the nature of the crimes most such people are imprisoned for. â€śMost of them are locked up without being involved in crimes like failure to repay debts, and other such financial cases, which do not show moral turpitude or gravity as such. But due to the circumstances, they are locked up in jail, and not in a position to access legal aid, and so they end up stuck in jail for very long period. So itâ€™s a welcome move which will help these people.â€ť