Sharjah: Seventeen Indians were sentenced to death by a sharia court in Sharjah, UAE, on Sunday for killing a Pakistani man during a clash between gangs in January 2009. The killing followed a turf dispute between groups that sell illegal liquor in and around labour camps in Al-Sajaa.

Alcohol is banned in Sharjah, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates federation.

While the police charged 17 for the murder, many others were let off due to lack of evidence. Court officials told The National newspaper that it was the largest number of defendants sentenced to death at one time here. The sentence was meted out on the basis of forensic reports and DNA tests, besides confessional statements of the convicts.

Judge Yaqoub al Hammadi said the 17 men, aged 22-30, played a part in killing the Pakistani by beating him with metal bars. His skull was fractured and he died before police arrived at the scene. Three Pakistanis were taken to Kuwaiti Hospital with serious injuries.
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According to the federal penal code, a sentence of death goes to appeal automatically. If the verdict is upheld by the appeal court, the case will be referred to the federal supreme court in Abu Dhabi. If the three judges there uphold the verdict, federal prosecutors will submit an execution order to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, whose signature is required before the men face the firing squad.

An official of the consulate general of India in Dubai said they had seen media reports and were trying to get details. He said they had put in a request with the authorities for access to the 17 Indians.

Gang wars over selling illicit alcohol are common in UAE. Last week, the Sharjah police arrested 18 Indians for selling illicit liquor.The problem is not confined to Sharjah. In an ongoing court case in Dubai, 13 bootleggers are accused of kidnapping two members of a rival gang and burying them alive. In March 2008, about 500 Indian and Pakistani workers clashed in fights sparked by the sale of illegal alcohol in Jebel Ali.

“Almost every week, a case of bootlegging is reported from Sajja and other industrial areas,” a police spokesman said. “All cases involve the use of alcohol that is illegal here.” (DNA & PTI)