Imagine being a poor Indian villager. You’re recruited for an honorable blue-collar job in the Middle East. Your dad borrows money to buy you the ticket. Your travel agent takes pity on you and buys you decent clothes for your first day on the job.
When you arrive, customs searches your belongings. You’re shocked when they tell you they found a small amount of heroin in your shoes and throw you in jail. You quickly realize the travel agent was not as generous as he seemed. You spend the next five years in lockup. The Indian embassy doesn’t help.
One fine day, the police take you out back and cut off your head. Then, while closing out your case, they realize they made a mistake and send a message to the Indian embassy: you were innocent after all. Shrug. Body’s been disposed of. Shit happens. Whaddya gonna do.
Unfortunately, it’s not a macabre short story by Edgar Allen Poe. Naickam Shahjahan, a poor Muslim from Kerala, was beheaded two months ago in Saudi Arabia for a crime he didn’t commit (via Prashant Kothari). 1.3 million Indians work in Saudi Arabia, and 18 were beheaded in 2003. But when innocent Brits are caught in the Saudi sharia system, their government usually manages to get them out.
… an undetermined number of foreigners, among them Indians, have been sentenced to death in the kingdom and await execution. Details of their trials and the evidence presented to convict them are treated as a State secret. “The tragedy is that in many cases, the condemned men did not know they had been sentenced to death, and their embassies were only informed after the fact,” says Menon.
Last year, an Indian diplomat in the Gulf said no advance information is given to the embassy before Indians are beheaded. “We get the information after the execution from local newspapers,” he said. After the execution, the body is not returned to the family. Relatives receive no official information about the location of the mortal remains in Saudi Arabia…
“Innocent job-seekers are used by the drug mafia as couriers without their knowledge. They are caught and killed in Saudi Arabia,” says Nassar, who worked in that country for several years…
… the response from the Saudi government has been defiant. In 2002, then Indian President K R Narayanan petitioned the Saudi authorities to spare an Indian from execution… Narayanan got no reply. Instead, the Indian was executed the very next week. [Mangalorean]
This case reminds me of former Illinois governor George Ryan commuting all death penalties in the state because he was certain innocent people had been put to death. It reminds me of the death penalties for possessing drugs in Thailand or Singapore, which inspired the movie Brokedown Palace. It reminds me, of course, of India’s infamous ‘staged encounters’ by both the army and the police. And the Saudis’ banal cruelty reminds me of China executing Tiananmen Square dissidents and then charging their families for the bullets.
The Supreme Court says obscenity is hard to define, but I know it when I see it.