UAE must investigate allegations of torture of Indian men on death row

Amnesty International has condemned abuses and torture said to have been meted out to 17 Indian men facing the death penalty in the United Arab Emirates for the murder of a Pakistani national. The migrant workers, sentenced to death on 29 March, are alleged to have been tortured by police over nine days while in custody in a bid to make them ‘confess’ to the crime. The men were beaten with clubs, subjected to electric shocks, deprived of sleep and forced to stand on one leg for ‘prolonged periods’, say Lawyers For Human Rights International (LFHRI), an Indian NGO campaigning on behalf of the men. Navkiran Singh, of the LFHRI says that a month after their arrest they were taken to the scene of the killing and forced to re-enact it. They were made to beat up a policeman posing as the dead man. The scene was videotaped and later presented at their trial as genuine CCTV footage of the killing. “This is a mockery of justice. These 17 men have been tortured, forced to confess, and sentenced to death based on a fake video”, said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. Amnesty International is calling on the UAE authorities to investigate the allegations of torture and abuse and to ensure the 17 men receive a fair trial on appeal, and without recourse to the death penalty. They must be protected from further torture and other ill-treatment, and any evidence obtained using such methods should not be used in court. The workers, all from the Punjab region and aged between 21 and 25, were arrested in January 2009, after a Pakistani man died and three more were injured in a fight, believed to be between rival gangs for control of an illegal alcohol business in the emirate of Sharjah. According to the LFHRI, officials in Sharjah Jail forcibly removed religious bracelets and necklaces worn by the men, all but one of whom are Sikhs, and made the prisoners stamp on them, saying “Who is your God? Call him. We would like to meet him.” According to the information available to Amnesty International, the trial was conducted in Arabic then translated from Arabic into Hindi, neither of which the 17 men understand. They were provided with an Emirati lawyer, who could not speak their native language, Punjabi, and did not refer to the alleged torture in court. The men were held for months before the Indian government was told they had been arrested. On 29 March the lower court in Sharjah sentenced them to death but the verdict was not made known to them until 14 April. An automatic appeal was filed on 8 April and the men will appear in court next on 19 May. “The authorities must investigate these reports of torture and ensure that the results are made public and those allegedly responsible are held to account,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. Sharjah is one of the seven semi-autonomous emirates that make up the UAE. In the UAE, a total of 3,113,000 foreign, migrant workers of over 200 nationalities work in 250,000 enterprises and as domestic workers. Migrant workers make up some 80 per cent of the total resident population of the UAE; UAE nationals around 20 per cent. In 2009 at least three people were sentenced to death by courts in Dubai and Sharjah but no executions were reported. In June 2009, the Supreme Court set aside the death sentence imposed on a US national, Shahid Bolsen, because he had not had access to a lawyer at his lower court trial in Sharjah. There appears to be a surge in the use of the death penalty in the UAE in 2010. In the month before the 17 Indian nationals were sentenced to death, according to a 22 February article in Abu Dhabi’s newspaper The National, at least eight men had been sentenced to death in the UAE.