THE BLOG
08/11/2013 06:04 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

In UAE, an Innocent Man Faces the Death Sentence - Please Help

"People see shiny towers - now I just see skeletons."

If anything sums up the modern moral predicament of the United Arab Emirates, it's these words from BBC investigative journalist Ben Anderson back in 2006.

He was talking about the darker side of the UAE - principally the abuse of migrant construction workers. UAE is not just an expat paradise. Its streets play host to a grotesque menu of human rights abuses - detention and torture of journalists, repression of political dissent, police beatings, union breaking, the prejudices of an Emirati elite enacted against Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistani workers.

South Asians are the under-class of the United Arab Emirates, the half-citizens, the construction workers, the maintenance men, the cleaners, the underpaid and often enslaved. It is their labour that the wealth of Emiratis, and indeed many expats, is built.

They send most of their money home to support their families, and endure horrendous conditions while they work. Ben Anderson's film for Vice Magazine showed fifty construction workers living together, sharing two toilets, one of which was a bucket. The portacabin they had been given to live in stank of sewage. Their passports had been confiscated, they had been forced into debt. They had been, effectively, enslaved.

Their legal rights are also minimal - and a case highlighted by Human Rights Watch this week typifies the abusive and unfair treatment of Indian workers by the criminal and judicial system.

Mr Ezhur Kalarikkal Gangadharan was, until this summer, a caretaker at Al Rabeeh school in Abu Dhabi. It was a school that had been set up by Brits, and has many British expat teachers working at it.

Mr Gangadharan had not seen his wife and three daughters, back in his home country of India, for two years. Each month, he sent most of his wage packet home. He volunteered at a local community centre, during what little spare time he had.

One day in April 2013, he was arrested, taken to a police station, and beaten for three days. Terrified and in agony - he signed a document thrust before him by the police. The words were in Arabic, a language he could not understand.

The crime he had supposedly committed - the rape of an Emirati schoolchild at Al Rabeeh school.

The South Asians working at the school that day, so-called "house boys," had also been arrested, tortured, told by police that only a confession would end the pain. Mr Gangadharan had simply been unlucky, he had broken first.

Terrified, he called his brother. They knew it was a stitch-up.

When he got to the court-room he desperately alerted the jury to the fact that he had been beaten and tortured - that the confession wasn't his and that he was innocent.

The translator assigned to him, who did not speak the same Indian language as he did, tried to translate. The court was told, unfortunately, the exact opposite of what had happened. She said that he had not been beaten.

His brother, sitting in the stalls, hung his head. To make matters worse, the few expat teachers who had come forward from the school to support him were barred from giving evidence. Many more have simply not shown an interest.

Mr Gangadharan was sentenced to execution, for a crime he did not commit.

The Emirati family of the little girl allege the rape happened in a kitchen at the school. On one side of the kitchen was the staff room, on the other side were the staff toilets. At break time, you'd expect these to be busy areas of the school, with plenty of witnesses.

Mr Gangadharan had worked at the school for over thirty years. He would know a quieter place to take a rape victim than next door to the staff room at lunch time. His own accommodation, for example, was just across the road - so why would he risk being seen or overheard in such a busy part of the school?

His back was covered in scratches and bruises from his beating - but tests were taken to see if the marks came from a struggle with the girl. It did not, in fact no DNA evidence from the mans clothes and body had matched the girls. DNA tests were made on all the South Asians rounded up that day by police, but none of this evidence was presented in court by Mr. Gangadharans defence laywer.

The motive for falsely accusing Mr Gangadharan is unclear. Although the court never heard this (and it is unclear why) - a medical examination concluded the girl had been abused over a number of years, not the one off rape that Mr Gangadharan has been convicted for.

Nevertheless, he faces the death sentence.

For whatever reason, nobody at the school is prepared to comment on the case. Many of their jobs rely on good will from the Emirati. The Royal Group are not returning calls from myself or from Human Rights Watch. Even the Indian Embassy, swamped with similar abuses and not wanting to upset their diplomatic relationship with the Emirati, simply commented "we have complete faith in the UAE legal system."

In a statement, Human Rights Watch commented that "they had documented numerous instances of police brutality" in the UAE, expressed concern over allegations of torturing Mr. Gangadharan, and judged that. given the evidence available - "he did not receive a fair trial." They have also called on the Indian authorities to do more to help the man.

An appeal against Mr Gangadharan's rape conviction is happening this Monday 11th November. You can sign a petition calling for a fair re-trial of Mr Gangadharan here. Without support from the school or Indian Embassy, Mr Gangadharan's only hope for a safe release and to see his family again is signatures and publicity outside of the UAE