Who will save Nepalis awaiting execution in foreign lands?

NEPAL (THE KATHMANDU POST) – Umesh Yadav was working on a water pipeline in Saudi Arabia in 2006 when Mohammad Latif Wasir, a Pakistani colleague, asked him for a torch. Yadav said that as he passed the torch, Wasir fell off a ladder and injured his nose. An angry Wasir then started to pummel Yadav, who retaliated by hitting him back with whatever he could find—a small scaffolding pipe.

“It was a small dispute,” Yadav recounted to the Post. “When he started punching my face, I got angry so I hit him back a few times.”

Wasir ended up in hospital with a head wound and after 15 days, he died.

Yadav, who had only just arrived in Jubail, a city in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia half a month ago, was charged with murder and given the death penalty.

Like thousands of Nepali migrant workers, Yadav had gone to Saudi Arabia in the hopes of earning a living for his family members back home in Dhanusha.

Umesh Yadav. PHOTO: THE KATHMANDU POST

Ever since Nepali workers began to migrate for work, there have been incidents where they have committed crimes and been jailed in the host countries. But most countries in the Middle East have the death penalty for serious crimes like murder whereas Nepal has done away with capital punishment for any crime. When cases like Yadav’s arise, Nepal faces an ethical dilemma—whether to allow the local laws to take their course or to intervene and try to prevent the execution of a Nepali citizen.

In Yadav’s case, it was not the government that intervened but an individual. After learning about Yadav, Saroj Ray started a campaign to collect blood money to get him released. In many countries in the Middle East, blood money can be paid to the families of the victims to ask for clemency. Ray collected the money, mostly from fellow migrant workers, and brought a pardon letter from Wasir’s family in Pakistan — the only way to bring Yadav home alive. In April 2018, the Pakistani family finally agreed to give clemency to Yadav after receiving NPR3 million.

“It was not about the money,” said Ray. “They agreed to forgive Yadav on humanitarian grounds.”

There are many others like Yadav who continue to languish in prison in various countries, sometimes awaiting execution.

According to the Foreign Ministry statistics, 528 Nepalis were in jails in various countries as of April 2018. Many are languishing in jails for minor offences as they cannot afford legal services.

In June 2018, the government passed a directive which allows the state to bear the legal expenses of Nepalis jailed in foreign countries. The government will provide a maximum of NPR1.5 million, which will be borne by the Foreign Employment Board’s relief fund.

There are also public campaigns to save Nepali workers who are either serving time in prison or are counting out their remaining days before they are executed.