Field Notes: A Mediator & Reporter

SHAMSHAD ALI

It was a struggle to witness the emotional upheaval of a Kashmiri Shia family whose son was imprisoned two years ago in prison in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, and is now awaiting trial without a lawyer or legal assistance from the Indian government. In March, when they had not received a call from him in two months—the same time 81 people were put to death in the kingdom (half of them Shia)—they feared the worst. When he phoned one day in May, I saw them erupt with joy, forgetting for a few moments that he was incarcerated in a foreign prison. 

They were reluctant to speak with me at first, unsure of whom to trust after their son was arrested for sending a Facebook message to someone in Iran, who I later discovered was another Kashmiri student. 

When they finally agreed to speak with me, it was not without hope that I may help them secure their son’s release. Drawn into their tragedy, it took me two years to write the story. 

Over 28 months, I wrote many emails to Indian officials, pleading for information and help for the family. They responded sometimes, but more often than not, my emails went unanswered. 

I sent the first email to the Indian embassy in Saudi Arabia on behalf of the family in April 2020. They responded after two months. The email that I received this month, in response to a plea for legal assistance from Mir’s family members, advised them to get a private lawyer to defend their son facing trial in a country where the criminal justice system is void of the rule of law and principles of natural justice. 

For the family, who cannot afford a private lawyer, Mir is a victim of the brutal state machinery of a dictatorship locked in a sectarian rivalry with its neighbour. The injustice seemed even starker when I found the man in Iran that Mir messaged was a Kashmiri student trying to connect with another Kashmiri far away from home. To find the man, I had pored over Mir’s Facebook account with more than 50 friends with the username ‘Imtiyaz’. I contacted them one by one until I found him. 

I learned how diplomatic complexities and an indifferent state plague families waiting to release their loved ones jailed for years in foreign prisons; the domestic government, in part, is rendered impotent by authoritarian regimes. 

I aimed to highlight the traumatic experience of one such family.

You can read Shamshad Ali's story here

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