Indian state crowdfunds £3.2m ‘blood money’ to free man facing death penalty in Saudi Arabia

Indian activists during a protest against capital punishment in New Delhi on 30 July 2015 (AFP via Getty)
Indian activists during a protest against capital punishment in New Delhi on 30 July 2015 (AFP via Getty)

Indians rallied in a display of solidarity to raise £3.2m in “blood money” for a man sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for accidentally killing a disabled boy.

Abdul Rahim, from the southern Indian state of Kerala, was imprisoned after a paralysed boy on life support died in 2006. According to local media reports, the life support system became detached while Rahim was driving the 15-year-old in a car, leading to his death.

Rahim has been in prison ever since.

In 2018, a Saudi court sentenced him to death after the boy’s family refused to grant him amnesty. The judgment was upheld by the country’s top court last year, before the victim’s family expressed their willingness to pardon him in exchange for £3.2m (Rs340m).

Rahim, who is from an impoverished family, couldn’t possibly raise the money. Then a number of civil society organisations came together in early March to help save him from his fate. They managed to raise the amount three days before Rahim’s scheduled execution on 16 April.

This is the “real Kerala story”, said Ashraf Venghat, a Keralite businessman based in Saudi Arabia who helped with the donation drive, referring to a Bollywood film called The Kerala Story that is widely seen as a piece of right-wing propaganda for hyping up the alleged forced conversion of Hindu girls.

A general secretary of the Saudi chapter of the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre, Venghat arrived in Kozhikode, Kerala, to bring together people from different communities in an effort to raise the money.

“There are Hindus, and Muslims, and members of all political parties, including the BJP [Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party], in the committee formed to save Rahim’s life,” Mr Venghat said.

Expressing her gratitude to the people, Rahim’s mother told reporters that “the communal harmony among people here helped collect such a huge amount so quickly”.

“I had no hope, as we have no means to raise Rs340m. But somehow it was all made possible,” she added. “I thank everyone.”

Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan took to Facebook and said: “Keralites across the world have united to mobilise Rs 34 crore (£3.2m) for the release of Abdul Rahim, who is facing death sentence in Saudi Arabia.

“To save a life, to wipe the tears of a family, Kerala has created a noble example of love. It is a declaration that Kerala is a fortress of brotherhood, which communalism cannot destroy.”