The five Indian men arrested in China for allegedly smuggling drugs will finally be able to send word to their families in Kolkata weeks after they were nabbed at Kunming airport.
On Tuesday, the five men were allowed to share their personal details with an Indian diplomat from the Guangzhou consulate – the first time an Indian official was given access to the group.
The suspects themselves are barred from contacting their families under Chinese law. The Guangzhou consulate is expected to contact their families on Thursday.
The families could be in for some harsh news. Chinese lawyers have told Hindustan Times that if convicted, the men will face prison sentences of 15 years or more.
Chinese authorities have alleged that the men were caught with large caches of hashish.
“It is a very serious offence. According to the law, any deals related to the sales of marijuana over 1 kg could attract a punishment of a jail term of 15 years,” Shanghai-based lawyer Wang Chune said last week.
For example, four Indians arrested with drugs at Nanning in south China in 2008 are serving life sentences, which could run for decades.
The five men, residents of Kidderpore in Kolkata, have been identified as Sheikh Ahmad Ali, 46, Akrar Khan, 33, Feroz Khan, 31, Sheikh Ismail, 24, and Maqsud Alam, 24. Ismail is a student of Syama Prasad College in Kolkata.
The Indian diplomat is learnt to have met each of the men separately and heard their version of events.
Two of them were arrested on August 24 and the others were nabbed on September 6 after they disembarked from a flight from Kolkata.
Officials have said that around 24 kg of hashish, an extract from the cannabis plant that is smoked after mixing with tobacco, were hidden in their luggage among packets of Indian snacks and scores of laptop bags.
The men have denied knowledge of the drugs and said they were employed to transport the bags and snacks to traders in China.
Except for Ismail, the rest have travelled to China several times to supply Indian goods to traders and pick up Chinese goods on their way back.
The excess luggage, the men’s shabby appearances and heightened security for the G20 Summit in Hangzhou in east China resulted in the men being stopped during airport checks. Besides the bags and snacks, the five were carrying a single change of clothes.
Chinese police are preparing the charge-sheet in the case, which has to be filed in court within 30 days of arrest.
It remains to be seen whether the suspects can hire a lawyer through the Indian embassy or the police will provide a defence lawyer.