Yemen's powerful tribal leaders are key to jailed Nimisha Priya's release - Hindustan Times

Yemen's powerful tribal leaders are key to jailed Nimisha Priya's release

Jun 21, 2024 09:15 PM IST

A unique aspect of Yemen's culture is the significant influence wielded by tribal leaders. Convincing them and gaining favour in a case like this is not easy.

On June 18, when the Indian embassy in Yemen issued a letter to Prema Kumari, the mother of Nimisha Priya, a Keralite nurse imprisoned in Yemen and facing a death sentence in a murder case, everyone working to get her released took it as a sign of hope.

Nimisha Priya, a nurse from Kerala, was sentenced to death by the trial court in Sana’a, Yemen, in 2020, for murdering a Yemeni man. (File) PREMIUM
Nimisha Priya, a nurse from Kerala, was sentenced to death by the trial court in Sana’a, Yemen, in 2020, for murdering a Yemeni man. (File)

The letter accepted Kumari’s request for assistance and agreed to process the receipt of $40,000 through the embassy account to Abdullah Amer, the Yemeni lawyer representing Priya, for the pre-negotiation process of blood money.

It stated that the embassy would transfer the money to the lawyer’s bank account once it received the funds.

A recap

Priya is accused of murdering Talal Abdo Mahdi, a Yemeni national, whose dismembered body was discovered in a water tank in July 2017.

Priya was employed as a nurse in Yemen. Her husband and daughter were living with her until Yemen's civil war erupted in 2014, prompting them to return to India. They have not been able to return.

Priya faced financial difficulties, prompting her to establish a medical clinic with the assistance of Mahdi. Subsequently, Mahdi, according to her testimony, began to exploit her. When she filed a complaint with the police, she was detained and imprisoned for a few days. Later, as Mahdi’s abuse intensified, she sought help from a nearby Yemeni jail warden who allegedly advised her to sedate Mahdi and flee. Mahdi was subsequently found dead. Priya fled but was apprehended and imprisoned.

In 2020, a Yemeni court sentenced her to death. She appealed the death penalty to an appellate court in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. However, on March 7, 2022, the appellate court dismissed her appeal. She then appealed to the Supreme Judicial Council, which dismissed her appeal on November 13, 2023.

Following this, with the help of the Save Nimisha Priya International Council (SNPIC), Kumari, her mother, sought special permission to travel to Yemen to rescue her daughter by negotiating with the Mahdi family and offering blood money.

Although Indians have been banned from travelling to Yemen since 2017, Kumari was granted special permission then. However, she could only travel to Yemen on April 20 and meet her daughter on April 24 in jail: It was a mother-daughter reunion after 11 years.

The stiff conditions for Nimisha Priya’s release

Interestingly, the pre-negotiation money is one of the four conditions set by the Yemeni lawyer. The other three conditions are: a letter from the Indian government to the Yemeni government, a guarantee letter from the Indian government honouring the outcome of the negotiations, and a video message from the mother pleading for pardon on behalf of her daughter. Aside from the guarantee from the Indian government, the other two conditions are assured and achievable. The Indian government has, so far, refused to provide the guarantee letter honouring the outcome of future negotiations.

A unique aspect of Yemen's culture is the significant influence wielded by tribal leaders. They play a crucial role in society and are accountable to the Yemeni public. Convincing them and gaining their favour in a case like this is not easy. This is where the guarantee letter is crucial.

However, the SNPIC is hopeful. They believe that there’s been some progress in the effort to pull Kumari out of jail.

Yet, they acknowledge the uncertainty surrounding the amount of blood money that will be demanded, given that Mahdi's family has not yet been consulted. In Yemeni culture, gaining the agreement of tribal leaders is crucial—they must be convinced. Therefore, while there is still uncertainty, there is also a sense of hope.

So far, the Council has raised approximately $20,000. They are hopeful of securing the remaining funds soon so that the money can be transferred to initiate the blood money pre-negotiation process.

A similar case

A recent case has raised hopes: The successful release of death-row convict Abdul Rahim from a Saudi Arabian jail through a concerted fundraising effort, which pulled in 34 crore (approximately $4 million) within days.

Rahim, originally from Kozhikode, Kerala, went to Saudi Arabia in 2006 to work as a driver. However, he became involved in an incident involving the death of a 16-year-old Saudi boy who relied on life support due to physical disabilities. Following his arrest, a legal battle ensued in the Saudi courts.

The Abdul Rahim Legal Aid Forum, established in Saudi Arabia, took on Abdul's case and pursued a pardon. In October 2023, the Forum successfully obtained a pardon from the victim's family, albeit conditioned upon the payment of Diya (blood money) amounting to approximately 15 million Saudi Riyals. Reports claim that Abdul will be freed in June.

But let's not forget the stark reality. In Abdul’s case in Saudi Arabia, the Legal Aid Forum was able to directly negotiate with the Saudi victim’s family, reaching an agreement when the blood money was accepted. However, in Priya’s case in Yemen, the Council has not yet been able to meet the Yemeni victim’s family. This can only happen if the Council convinces the Yemeni tribal leaders. Therefore, it won’t be an easy path in Kumari’s case. It may take time, but there are signs of hope.

Rejimon Kuttappan is a labour migration researcher and author of Undocumented: Stories of Indian Migrants in the Arab Gulf. The views expressed are personal.


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