December 7, 2005Foreign Affairs

Punishing Naushad, but sparing his eyes

India must ensure that its citizens get a fair trial

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

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.

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