Karthiyani, a housewife from Tamil Nadu, is getting frustrated by the day. It has been months now that she had been dialing a phone number of the ministry of external affairs, seeking help to secure the release of her husband from a jail in the Arab emirate of Abu Dhabi. To her dismay, the phone rings but no one answers.
Her husband, Tennarasu Arumugham, is one of the four Indians lodged in a jail in the desert kingdom on charges of spying. Arumugham is serving a three-year sentence. The three others — Muhammad Ibrahim, Manarathodi Abbas and Mohammed Mukthar — have been sentenced from 5 to 10 years.
Another Indian, Shihani Jamal Mohammad from Kerala, is also in jail undergoing trial on similar charges. Though Abbas, Arumugham and Ibrahim were detained in 2014, they were sentenced at different times between May 2015 and January this year.
The charge levelled against Arumugham is grave and his future looks grim. But what worries Karthiyani more is the Indian government’s lack of concern for him or the others.
“Except for a meeting the MEA called in Delhi on April 13, there has been no action from the government. They had given us a contact number, but no one answers it,” she laments .
New Delhi’s response, or the lack of it, to the jailing of the five is in sharp contrast to its much-publicised campaign to secure the release of Sarabjit Singh, jailed by Pakistan in 1990 for being an Indian spy. Sarabjit caught the public’s imagination and there was a nationwide outpouring of support for his freedom, but he died a prisoner in 2013.
Like Karthiyani, the relatives of the other jailed Indians, are equally distraught. “We placed a request to Sushma Swaraj seeking help through BJP MP Suresh Gopi, and we met [Kerala chief minister] Pinarayi Vijayan who sent a letter to Swaraj’s office. But the MEA is yet to respond,” said a relative of Ibrahim, sentenced to 10 years in prison and a fine of an Indian equivalent of Rs 9.06 crore.
The Abu Dhabi court judgment against Ibrahim, a copy of which Hindustan Times has accessed, says he (Ibrahim) handed over “confidential defense information of the State” to “two intelligence officers of the Indian embassy — Ajay Kumar and Rudranath Juha”.
Ibrahim and Abbas, have been convicted for allegedly spying at the Mina Zayed deepwater port. Both were working at the port.
Arumugham was convicted for sharing “sensitive data” with Indian embassy officials while he worked with a UAE-based telecom company, a charge his family denies.
Repeated attempts by HT to speak to the MEA failed, with both calls and emails evoking no response.
Relatives of the jailed Indians say they have been made scapegoats. “There was a lot of pressure from the two embassy officials on Ibrahim to divulge details about the movement of ships at the port. Initially the embassy put pressure on him by delaying the renewal of his and his son’s passports. Later these officials befriended him to obtain details,” a relative of Ibrahim alleged on condition of anonymity.
They have, however, not given up hope yet and say if New Delhi puts pressure on the UAE government, their relatives will be freed, now that India-UAE relations are stronger.
“India, especially after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, has built strong ties with the UAE government. If New Delhi intervenes they will release my brother and the others,” says Hameed, brother of Abbas.
Meanwhile, the relatives are planning to petition BJP leaders expected to gather at Kozhikode, Kerala, for the party’s national executive over the weekend.