As many as 17 people being sentenced to death for the murder of one person is highly unusual anywhere in the world. This surreal happening in Sharjah has cast a pall of gloom in Punjab because 16 of the 17 convicts are from the state while one happens to be from neighbouring Haryana. They have been put on death row by a Sharjah court for the murder of a Pakistani man and injuring three others in January last year following a brawl over an illegal liquor business. There is no question of interfering in the legal process of any country but what the Government of India can certainly strive to ensure is that there is no miscarriage of justice. The hapless convicts in the age group of 17 to 30 are sole breadwinners of their families and had mortgaged their landholdings to arrange their work visas for the UAE, where they received this bolt from the blue.
Those convicted insist that it is a frame-up. Being extremely poor, they were not able to hire suitable legal help. The lawyer hired half-heartedly by their employer was allegedly of no help in court, with the result that their version of the story never got heard. Language was also a problem. The government must do all that it can to help them in this hour of need, because there are many holes in the police story. Two officers of the Indian consulate met the 17 Indians at a jail in Sharjah earlier this week and are now working on the appeal process.
Not many such persons from economically weaker sections of society are fully aware of their rights. Even otherwise, there is a tendency in some countries to be harsh on expatriates. New Delhi must step in forcefully, the way it did in the case of 400 Indian citizens who were ordered to be hanged in Libya in 1996 for going on strike, which is punishable by death as per the law of that country.