Court adjourns hearing of 17 Indians on death row

Dubai: Seventeen Indians, sentenced to death for killing a Pakistani, were on Wednesday allowed to have a Punjabi translator by the Sharjah Court of Appeal which also adjourned the case to June 16.

"They were asked to either plead guilty or innocent but the convicts said they don’t understand any language other than Punjabi. The court then agreed to allow us a Punjabi translator," Bindu Suresh Chettur, the lawyer handling the case, said today.

According to her, the Sharjah Court of Appeal then adjourned the case to June 16 when it will be heard again.

Indian consulate in Dubai has already made a translator available to the Indians.

"Things are being taken forward step-by-step but I can tell you that things have gone according to plan," Chettur said.

A Sharjah court of First Instance had on March 29 found the 17 Indians, 16 from the Punjab and one from Haryana, guilty of beating a Pakistani man to death and wounding three others when a fight involving dozens of bootleggers broke out in the Al Sajaa industrial area in January last year.

An appeal was filed on April 7 on behalf of the Indians.

"There is a translator who could only translate in Hindi" while the defendants could only understand Punjabi, the head of India's Lawyers For Human Rights International (LFHRI), Navkiran Singh said after the hearing.

He said that the lack of translation could mean that the whole trial was wrong. "If they never understood what happened in court, then all the proceedings are null and void," he said.

About 50 people were allegedly involved in the attack, in which the Pakistani man was beaten to death with metal bars. While others were let off due to lack of evidence, the men on death row are accused of being the gang leaders.

Amid an outrage in India over the verdict, the government had asked its consulate in Sharjah to engage a top lawyer and file an appeal to a higher court.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had termed the death sentence on the Indians as "very unfortunate" and instructed his ministry to assist them in filing an appeal and also bear all the expenses involved.

Preneet Kaur, the Minister of State for External Affairs, had met families of the 17 convicted Indians and assured them of the government's support in pursuing the case.