3-9 February 2017 #844

7 years in Jeddah jail

Ten Nepali migrant workers return home to ask: "Why did our government abandon us?"
Om Astha Rai

Pics: Bikram Rai
Nine of the 10 Nepali migrant workers who recently returned home from a jail in Saudi Arabia at Singha Darbar last week

Nepal promulgated its new constitution, suffered a devastating earthquake and then a crippling blockade in the last few years. But Bhim Chimariya (at far left in picture, above) knew nothing about what was going on back home.

All these years, the 31-year-old migrant worker from Biratnagar was in a Saudi jail, waiting for his turn to be beheaded. "Every month, one of us would be dragged away to be executed," he recalls. "I was always afraid I would be next.”

After spending seven years in jail in Saudi Arabia, Chimariya was finally handed a travel document and sent home last month. He is now in Kathmandu, and is asking: “Why did my government abandon me to rot in Saudi Arabia?”

Nine of the 10 Nepali migrant workers who recently returned home from a jail in Saudi Arabia at Singha Darbar last week

Chimariya was all set to return to Nepal in 2010 after working for three years in a Dammam-based pesticide company. He had moved to Jeddha, and was waiting for a plane ticket for the flight home.

One night while watching an old Bollywood movie with his friends, a team of Saudi policemen barged into their room and took him away. They charged him with murdering a migrant worker from India’s Uttar Pradesh.

Once in police custody, Chimariya learnt that 10 other Nepali and five Indian migrant workers were also charged in connection with the same murder. They were tortured during three months of interrogation, then transferred to a Jeddah jail.

The jail is notorious for torture and the inhumane treatment of detainees. One of the 11 Nepali migrants, Umesh Shrestha (pictured, right) from Madhuban of Sunsari district, became mentally unstable after prolonged torture, was taken to hospital where he died. His body was never sent home.

"Police used to give us electric shocks, whip our bare legs even as they bled," says Chimariya. "Even now, I cannot walk for long and shudder with fear whenever I see electric cables."

Saudi police had no evidence to prove them guilty. Finger print and blood samples collected from the deceased did not prove their involvement in the crime. The Indians who had falsely implicated them did not testify against any of them. Nevertheless, they were kept in the jail for almost seven years.

Shree Kumar Rai of Bhojpur, who returned home along with Chimariya, says the Nepal Embassy in Saudi Arabia did nothing to help them. "We would not have to suffer like this if the government had cared about us," he says.

The Nepal Embassy did not hire a lawyer to defend them, and embassy staff reportedly abused them verbally for being a nuisance.

After five years, Rai managed to use a mobile phone stealthily brought into the jail by a rich Saudi inmate by massaging him and washing his clothes. He then knew that his wife had already left him for another man. Bir Bahadur Budhathoki of Okhaldhunga was also abandoned by his wife when he was in jail.

But they hold no grudges against their ex-wives. Says Budathoki: "It was bound to happen. What do you expect from your wife when you suddenly vanish and do not call her for years?"

Rai lost his father soon after being thrown into jail, but knew about his death only years later and could not perform his final rites. Kesh Bahadur Nepali of Tanahu found out he had lost both his parents after his release.

"We all have lost so much in all these years, and we do not know where to begin to get back to normal life,” says Chimariya, who is getting together with his friends to fight for justice. They met Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal's adviser Rishi Raj Adhikari last week, and are seeking an appointment with the PM himself.

They just have two demands: compensation for the years they lost for a crime they did not commit, and bringing back the body of their friend Umesh Shrestha so his family can have a dignified cremation.

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