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How an App and Crowdfunding Saved Abdul Rahim, a Keralite on Death Row in Saudi

Abdul Rahim from Kozhikode was sentenced to death for the accidental death of a 16-year-old Saudi boy.

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Through a remarkable confluence of technology and human compassion, both online and offline, Kerala has secured the release of Abdul Rahim from a death sentence in Saudi Arabia.

In a show of incredible solidarity, a massive fundraising effort collected Rs 34 crore (approximately $4 million) within days.

This feat, now dubbed The Real Kerala Story has earned widespread praise, including from national leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

Rahul pointed to the Save Abdul Rahim crowdfunding efforts as a response to the politics of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Vijayan highlighted the indomitable spirit of Malayalis, who come together to uphold Kerala's resilience and compassion. The latter added in the X post that this effort shatters divisive lies.

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Who is Abdul Rahim?

Abdul Rahim, from Kozhikode, Kerala, arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2006 to work as a driver.

However, his duties soon changed, and he was assigned to care for a 16-year-old Saudi boy with physical disabilities who relied on a life support system. Just 26 days after arriving, while travelling by car with the boy, they came to a red light.

The boy reportedly pressured Abdul to run the red light, but Abdul refused. The situation escalated into a struggle, and during the commotion, Abdul's actions unintentionally disconnected the boy's life support. The boy lost consciousness, causing Abdul to panic.

"In a panicked state, Abdul failed to get medical attention for the boy, who then passed away. Abdul did not have a driver's license. Additionally, Abdul provided inconsistent accounts of the tragedy to the police during questioning, which raised suspicion. This led to his imprisonment and subsequent death sentence," Majid Ambalakandi, a member of the Abdul Rahim Legal Aid Trust, told The Quint over the phone from Kozhilkode.

Following his imprisonment, a legal battle ensued in the Saudi courts. The Abdul Rahim Legal Aid Forum, established in Saudi Arabia, took up Abdul's case and pursued a pardon. In October 2023, the Forum secured a pardon from the victim's family, but it was conditional upon the payment of Diya (blood money) amounting to approximately 15 million Saudi Riyals.

The deadline for this payment was April 16.

The Legal Aid Forum then approached us to start crowdfunding efforts. We secured the support of prominent figures, including Panakkad Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal (state president of the Indian Union Muslim League), Indian Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan, parliamentarians, legislative assembly members, community leaders, and many others. Together, we formed the Save Abdul Rahim Trust to launch the crowdfunding campaign," Majid said.

Before launching the crowdfunding campaign, the Trust meticulously obtained all necessary legal approvals from the Indian government's Finance Ministry, Reserve Bank of India, and the Income Tax department. "Transparency was paramount," explained Majid.

"We ensured compliance with all regulations, and this focus on transparency led us to consider purchasing an online fundraising app," he added.

Save Abdul Rahim App

SpineCodes, a Kerala-based software company experienced in developing crowdfunding apps, made the Save Andul Rahim App in a couple of days.

"Our experience in developing socially-driven crowdfunding apps made it easy for us to understand the Trust's needs and develop a solution," Mohammed Hashim, co-founder of SpineCodes, told The Quint.

"Over 80 per cent of the targeted Rs 34 crore was raised through the app. Donors can easily track their donation amount, submitted information, and the campaign's progress. Additionally, the app provides immediate donation receipts," Hashim added.

According to him, this app and the previous ones they developed have ensured transparency, which builds trust among the donors.

"These days, even QR codes and bank account details can be manipulated or forged, making them vulnerable to cyber fraud. Donors' money could be diverted or stolen. An app provides a secure platform that eliminates these pitfalls," he added.

The Trust and the company have closed the app as they have secured the Rs 34 crore needed for the blood money payment. Currently, the app has 5,00,000 plus downloads.

Meanwhile, Boby Chemmanur, a Kerala-born businessman with companies spanning the globe, including jewellery ventures, spearheaded the crowdfunding effort by donating Rs 1 crore to the Save Abdul Rahim campaign. As an influential figure, his involvement ignited a social media frenzy worldwide among Keralites, resulting in the collection of Rs 34 crore within a couple of days.

On a positive note, Asianet News has reported that the Saudi court has accepted the appeal for the remission of Abdul Rahim’s death sentence, as presented by his lawyers, due to the raised blood money. However, they are awaiting a response from the Saudi government.

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9,521 Indians in Foreign Jails

In light of the public support for Abdul Rahim's case, calls are now growing for a similar fundraising efforts to aid Nimisha Priya.

Nimisha, a nurse from Kerala, is facing the death penalty in a Yemeni jail after being accused of killing her Yemeni partner. Nimisha was sentenced to death in 2020 and her final plea in the country's top court was dismissed in November 2023.

Shockingly, Indian parliamentary documents from December 2023 reveal that 9,521 Indians are languishing in foreign jails on various charges. Saudi Arabia has the highest number of Indian inmates at 2,200, and the United Arab Emirates is in the second position with 2,143 Indians jailed in different Emirates.

Meanwhile, according to the same parliamentary document (as per December 2023), India has signed extradition treaties with 50 countries and has extradition arrangements with 12 countries. Saudi Arabia, which has the largest number of Indians jailed, is one among the 50 countries with which India has signed extradition treaties. However, murder charges are included under the list of grounds for refusal within the treaty. 

Another parliamentary document released in 2019 indicates that 44 Indians are currently on death row.

(Rejimon Kuttappan is an independent journalist and author of Undocumented [Penguin 2021].)

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