The lawyer of the family of Nimisha Priya, an Indian nurse who has been given the death penalty in Yemen, has alleged that the Indian government had not informed her family that her appeal for revocation had been rejected. Nimisha’s life hangs by a delicate diplomatic and legal thread.
NIMISHA Priya’s family was kept in the dark about Yemen’s Supreme Court dismissing her appeal against the death sentence, Nimisha’s mother’s lawyer told The Leaflet in an exclusive interview.
“The Indian government verbally informed the Delhi High Court on November 16 that Yemen’s Supreme Court had rejected Nimisha’s appeal to revoke the death sentence on November 13.
“This information was disclosed during a hearing on a petition filed by Nimisha’s mother, Prema Kumari, seeking travel permission to meet Nimisha in a Yemeni jail,” K.R. Subash Chandran told The Leaflet.
“If we hadn’t approached the court seeking travel permission and if the Delhi High Court hadn’t scheduled the case for hearing on November 16, we wouldn’t have been informed about Nimisha’s appeal rejection in Yemen,” Subash asserted.
“Isn’t she an Indian citizen? Doesn’t the Indian government have a responsibility to inform Nimisha’s family about this? How could they remain inactive?” Subash questioned.
Nimisha stands accused of murdering Talal Abdo Mahdi, a Yemeni national, whose dismembered body was discovered in a water tank in July 2017. Nimisha, a Kerala native, was employed as a nurse in Yemen. Her husband and daughter were residing with her. When Yemen’s civil war erupted in 2014, her husband and daughter returned to India. They were unable to return thereafter.
According to Subash, Nimisha faced financial difficulties, prompting her to establish a clinic with the assistance of the deceased Yemeni, Mahdi.
“Nimisha claimed that Mahdi was exploiting and abusing her. When she filed a complaint at the police station, she was detained, imprisoned for a few days, and then released.
“Later, when Mahdi’s abuse intensified, she sought assistance from a nearby Yemeni jail warden who ‘advised her to sedate Mahdi and flee’,” Subash explained.
“Following the jail warden’s advice, Mahdi was reportedly ‘killed’. Nimisha fled but was subsequently apprehended and imprisoned,” Subash added.
In 2020, a Yemeni court sentenced her to death. She appealed the death penalty to an appeal court in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. However, on March 7, 2022, the appeal court in Yemen dismissed her appeal.
She then appealed to the Supreme Judicial Council, which, according to the Indian government’s verbal statement to the Delhi High Court on November 16, dismissed her appeal on November 13 this year.
On November 16, the Delhi High Court heard Nimisha’s mother Prema Kumari’s petition seeking travel authorisation to Yemen. The court instructed the petitioner to submit her travel documents to the Union government to facilitate the journey.
In 2017, the Indian governmentbanned the travel of Indians to Yemen. However, on November 16, the Indian government informed the Delhi High Court that in 2019 they have issued a notification relaxing the ban on travel to Yemen.
The November 16 Order has quoted the relaxation statement as follows: “Yemen can be relaxed by the Central Government for specific and essential reasons of travel.”
“The aforesaid directions may also be relaxed by the Central Government for specific and essential reasons for travel, for which permission for a limited time may be granted by the Central Government at the express request of the applicant who would, nevertheless, travel at his or her risk without any liability to the Government of India or any state government concerned and any such request for exemption may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The court has set one week for the next step, which is to facilitate travel for Nimisha’s mother, Nimisha’s daughter and a few members of the Save Nimish Priya International Council, which has been coordinating the rescue effort since 2020.
Conversing with The Leaflet, Prema Kumari expressed her firm belief that meeting Mahdi’s parents and pleading for forgiveness could save Nimisha’s life.
“I will implore them for my daughter’s life. They will not dismiss my plea. I am confident that this will lead to the revocation of Nimisha’s death sentence,” Prema Kumari asserted.
Although the Yemeni Supreme Court has rejected the appeal against the death sentence, the option of blood money remains open.
Blood money, also known as diya in Shariah (Islamic jurisprudence) is the financial compensation paid to the victim or heirs of a victim in cases of murder, bodily harm, or property damage caused by mistake.
In Nimisha’s case, the victim’s relatives could choose to forgo their right to qisas (the principal punishment for murder) and accept blood money instead.
Meanwhile, P.M. Jabir, an Indian migrant rights activist for over four decades and the coordinator of the Save Nimisha Priya International Council, informed The Leaflet that “the blood money option is still open. Our hopes rest on that and the Yemeni President’s decision”.
“Unfortunately, the tribal councils, who hold the final say in Mahdi’s case, have remained silent thus far. Additionally, the political instability following the civil war has further complicated the situation. We are doing our utmost to find a solution,” Jabir stated.
Concurring with Jabir’s assessment, Rafeek Ravuther, an Indian migrant rights activist for nearly three decades, told The Leaflet that “if the family is willing to accept blood money, the Save Nimisha Priya International Council can raise the funds through crowdsourcing from around the world”.
“The Save Nimisha Priya International Council is capable of doing so,” Rafeek affirmed, adding that in addition to blood money, Indian diplomacy can play a crucial role in rescuing Nimisha.
“India is a global power with a proven track record of diplomatic expertise. If it intervenes wholeheartedly, Nimisha can be saved,” Rafeek concluded.
Meanwhile, on November 16, whileresponding to a media query on Nimisha’s case, Arindam Bagchi, Ministry of External Affairs official spokesperson, stated, “We have been following this case, of course, and we are aware of the recent development that you alluded to. We are extending consular assistance, but since it is a legal issue there, as well as, I think, it is gone in the, as you said, Delhi High Court, I would not like to comment on those steps, but certainly we are in touch [with the Yemeni government].
“We are extending whatever consular assistance we can, but do understand that this is a legal process in their country too, and we will see in whatever way we can continue with this process.”
Prema Kumari last had a conversation with Nimisha some three months ago. On being asked what it was about, she told The Leaflet that her daughter asked her whether she was sitting idle or doing something to rescue her.
“She wanted to know whether I am in constant touch with the Save Nimish Priya International Action Council leaders. She wanted to know what other steps we are taking to save her,” Prema Kumari said.
“I told her I am doing my best and praying for her. I have told her that I will come to meet her and Mahdi’s parents to beg for forgiveness. I am sure it will happen soon,” Prema Kumari concluded.