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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 28 May 2024

‘The real Kerala story’: Keralites raise Rs 34 crore in 40 days to free man on death row in Saudi Arabia

The full amount was raised on Friday evening, with just three days left to meet the court-set deadline for payment of the blood money, worth Saudi Riyal (SR) 15 million, to the victim’s family

K.M. Rakesh Bengaluru Published 13.04.24, 05:52 AM
Abdul Raheem

Abdul Raheem File picture

Keralites joined hands across the religious and political spectrums to raise in 40 days the Rs 34 crore needed to free a man on death row in Saudi Arabia, with the humanitarian initiative dubbed “the real Kerala story”.

The full amount was raised on Friday evening, with just three days left to meet the court-set deadline for payment of the blood money, worth Saudi Riyal (SR) 15 million, to the victim’s family.

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Abdul Raheem, 41, has been rotting in prison, awaiting execution, since being sentenced to death 18 years ago by a court in Riyadh. Recently, expatriates from Kerala managed to persuade the victim’s family to grant a pardon in exchange for blood money (“diya” in Arabic), to be paid before April 15.

Raheem, who was an auto driver in Feroke, Kozhikode, before heading to Saudi Arabia, was convicted of causing the death of his sponsor’s 15-year-old paraplegic son.

His job was to take care of the boy and drive him wherever he needed to go. But Raheem accidentally knocked down a medical aid connected to the boy’s neck to help him breathe. The boy fell unconscious and died.

Successive appeals against his death sentence bought him time although the trial court renewed the execution order — in 2011, 2017 and 2022 — each time an appeal failed.

“After years of refusing to grant a pardon, the boy’s family last year agreed to do so in exchange for SR 15 million as blood money,” Ashraf Venghat, a Keralite businessman based in Saudi Arabia, told The Telegraph on Friday.

“The execution order was briefly paused in view of the written undertaking from the victim’s family to grant him pardon against blood money, to be paid within six months of signing the deal on October 16, 2023.”

Venghat, general secretary of the Saudi unit of the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre, an organisation aligned with the Indian Union Muslim League, recently arrived in Kozhikode to pursue a donation drive with the help of all political parties, including the BJP.

“There are Hindus and Muslims and members of all political parties, including the BJP, in the committee formed to save Raheem’s life,” Venghat said.

He called this “the real Kerala story”, reacting to a section of the Syro-Malabar Church recently screening the Hindi film, The Kerala Story, which depicts the forced conversions of Hindu girls and is widely viewed as a Right-wing propaganda film.

A man named Suresh is chairman of the legal aid committee, which launched a Save Abdul Raheem mobile app in Kozhikode on March 3.

The collection drive gathered pace with entrepreneurs and vloggers publicising the cause.

The committee closed the donation drive after the requirement was met on Friday evening.

Raheem’s mother, Paathu, said she had no words to describe her happiness at her prayers being answered with the help of Kerala’s people.

“The communal harmony among people here helped collect such a huge amount so quickly. I thank everyone,” she told reporters.

Venghat said the process had begun to transfer the funds to the Indian embassy in Riyadh, through which the money would be remitted to a dedicated and court-monitored bank account.

“Once that is done, we expect to secure his release although we don’t know how long it will take,” Venghat said.

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