Punishing Naushad, but sparing his eyes

India must ensure that its citizens get a fair trial

The Acorn is a strong supporter of the impartial application of the rule of the law. It also believes that those accused of crimes must be given a fair trial in the jurisdiction where the crime is alleged to be committed; and if found guilty, must be punished according to the sentencing norms prevailing in that jurisdiction. Foreigners accused in India and Indians accused abroad should not expect anything more than a fair trial. By demanding special treatment for their citizens (or residents) as part of extradition deals or ‘compassionate’ deals, governments risk creating precedents of jurisdictional arbitrage. This is not only unfair, but provides ample opportunities for international criminals to avoid punishment.

By this token, should the Indian government take up the case of Puttan Veettil Naushad with the Saudi authorities (via Kuttan)? In a literal application of the principle of an eye for an eye, the Saudi Supreme Court has ordered the eyes of the convicted Indian national to be gouged out and donated to his Saudi victim. Inhuman as it is, this is the law in Saudi Arabia, and it is not quite the Indian government’s business to intercede on its citizen’s behalf just because it believes that the punishment for assault should be different. But it is certainly the Indian government’s business to ensure that its citizen receives a fair trial. It is quite possible that as a foreigner from a developing country, Naushad found the odds stacked against him in the Saudi legal system, which is not exactly famous for its transparency and fairness. Reports of discrimination against Indian nationals are not new. The Indian government must intervene not to seek special, but equal treatment, for its citizens.

The terrible fate that awaits one of its citizens is sufficient reason for the Indian embassy in Riyadh to investigate whether Naushad had the same rights and privileges as would be available to a Saudi citizen accused of the same crime. If not, the Indian government must use every avenue at its disposal to assist its citizen, including taking it up with its Republic Day guest. On the other hand, if it turns out that Naushad’s conviction came after a fair trial, it must warn its nationals on the dangers of living and working in countries with such legal systems.

Update: The Indian Express condemns Saudi Arabia’s legal system as barbaric. As a newspaper it is entitled to do so. But as argued in this post, the Indian government cannot use this as a basis to intervene on behalf of Naushad.

Tailpiece: Govindraj Ethiraj points out that measures intended to protect Indian workers abroad work only to irritate outbound travellers at the airport check-in counter. India can protect its citizens far better if it decides to get tough with those who molest its citizens.

10 thoughts on “Punishing Naushad, but sparing his eyes”

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  2. If our government spent less time on wondering what the “Muslims of India” would think on Iran’s nukes and concentrated on improving the lot of the poor(and not on spending money wildly), it would not even need to warn people to go to such places.
    No one in their right mind wants to go to such places unless their home country offers ridiculous or no opportunities.

  3. We could have a case of discrimination, if the laws of that particular jurisdiction prohibited it explicitly. However, as far as I know, foreign citizens don’t have equal status with Saudi citizens. So, where is the question of discrimination ?

    It is a legally valid way of behaviour, reinforced by inherent prejudices against us.

    No amount of Govt. work can save our citizens from this type of treatment. Only plausible way is to provide alternatives for our citizens to work here, where they are proper citizens, rather than in a foreign country, where they are legally disadvantaged…

  4. Despite all the problems in the Gulf , it is still a magnet for many people.Apart from Kerala even in North India,almost every Indian urban Muslim middle class family has some relative working there
    Among the many attractions,the higher salary there (with the opportunity to save money) and easy access to Masjids and Halal food is a big plus.

  5. The reports I read said that Saudi Supreme Court decided this matter. Normally it would be surprising to see a supreme court of a land taking a petty beating case. But this is not a normal society and it’s their constitutional matter to gouge peoples eyes!!

  6. What a disgusting and revolting society Saudi is!
    Worse, there’s this incorrigible “holier than thou” stench permeating the whole place….

  7. I think I disagree with you on this. While the Saudi government’s duty is to ensure that its own laws are enforced within its jurisdiction, the Indian government must act using any reasonable means it deems appropriate to protect its citizens – even if doing so would suggest that it seeks to subvert the course of justice. This is the distinction between the role that a government performs within the borders of the country, and its role in the international arena.

    It is important to note that this does not necessarily mean that the Indian government supports letting a criminal go scot free. For instance, governments frequently ask for their citizens to be extradited to be tried in a court in their home country (one example being the terrorists with British and Australian citizenship fighting in Afghanistan). Even if India does not make this extreme demand, it is completely reasonable for it to demand an exception to the law for its own citizens. This is the government’s duty, and as a citizen, I would fully expect the Indian authorities to fulfill it.

    Another example of transnational bartering in the selective application of laws – the Portuguese government’s insistence that India waive the death penalty before extraditing Abu Salem. Should the Portuguese government have demanded this (to protect a non-citizen)? I think it was within its rights, acting in accordance with its own moral conceptions. Given that, if India were to press for a relaxation of the brutal punishments that the Saudis seem to particularly favour, it does not seem inappropriate in any way to me.

  8. Arvind,

    How can the Indian government decide an Indian citizen accused of a crime in a foreign country is guilty or not? Even if it could, what laws would it use — Indian or the laws of the country where the crime is alleged to have been committed? And unless it intends to allow Indian criminals go scot free, is it prepared to bring home prosecutors, witnesses etc from every foreign country where an Indian is accused of a crime so that they can be tried in Indian courts?

    Even before we debate the principles of ‘the distinction between the role that a government performs within the borders of the country, and its role in the international arena’, the impracticality of it already rules it out. Imagine every country decides to do the same.

    Your example of the Abu Salem case is pertinent. By insisting that Abu Salem be spared the death penalty as a condition of extradition, Portugal has distorted the fairness of India’s legal system. Fairness demands that two criminals guilty of the same offence be given the same punishment. So the other (perhaps hypothetical) ‘Abu Salem’ who did not have the good luck of entering the European Union before getting caught will perhaps hang. Unfairly, thanks to Portugal. Portugal should have made its assessment on whether Abu Salem stood a chance of a fair trial or not. If it was convinced he would, it had no further business circumscribing the Indian penal code. India didn’t have much of a choice there. It could either accept the extradition under Portugal’s terms or allow him to escape justice entirely.

    I do not think a country based on rule of law can make distinctions between internal and external behaviour, as the Bush Administration is now finding out.

  9. Thanks for your response to my comment. I would argue that the Indian government doesn’t need to know whether or not its citizens, under trial in a foreign country, are guilty before making efforts to have them released or their sentence commuted. Given the impracticality of trying every criminal in an Indian court of law, this duty of the government is circumscribed to some extent, so that it essentially reduces to two cases particularly worthy of action – the first, as you point out, is when the trial process is unfair. The second is when the Indian government believes that the punishment suggested is extraordinarily brutal and inconsistent with its own belief in human dignity – as in this case.

    I personally am not convinced by your argument that the fairness of a trial is in some way an exceptional condition. For instance, consider an Indian who commits a crime in a country under an authoritarian regime. If the law of that country allows for cases to be decided by decree without trial, based on your argument, we should not object, since the laws of that country define the process to be fair and legal.

    Furthermore, you raise the possibility of every country trying to do the same thing. In fact, several countries already do. That’s not to say that they are always successful in doing so, but at least they make an effort to assist their citizens – the role of a sovereign nation in protecting its citizens when they are on foreign soil. Also, while the Portuguese government may have “distorted the fairness of India’s legal system,” the outcome of the trial is now one that is acceptable under the laws of Portugal. The only set of laws that a country is genuinely beholden to is its own.

  10. Arvind,

    Allowing foreign countries to thrust their mores on India makes a mockery of democracy. I appreciate Portugal’s right to have laws that its citizens like; but I find it unacceptable that they should insist that their laws be applied in India. Likewise, I find it unacceptable that India thrust its own moralities on other countries.

    Fairness in the jurisdiction where the crime is committed is the only condition for intervention. Indians who travel to, and commit the crime in authoritarian countries do so fully aware of where they are and what they are doing. They will have few disincentives against bad behaviour if they know their government will bail them out anyway. As long as that authoritarian regime treats Indian citizens no differently from its own there is little reason to intervene.

    I am fully with you on the government’s duty to protect its citizens while they are on foreign soil. But it is totally a different matter to allow them to escape justice; which as you agree, will be impossible for India to achieve.

    Also, while the Portuguese government may have “distorted the fairness of India’s legal system,” the outcome of the trial is now one that is acceptable under the laws of Portugal.

    Why the Portuguese people must find acceptable the trial of a crime committed in India against Indians beats me.

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