The fate of five Indians is hanging in balance after a court in southwestern China is learnt to have indicted them on drug smuggling charges.
The quantum of punishment is yet to be announced but the five, arrested last year, could face years in a Chinese prison, ranging from a minimum of seven years to 15 years or more.
Only sketchy information is available about the hearing, which was carried out in two separate trials on Wednesday at the Kunming People’s Intermediate court in the southwestern China’s Yunnan province. Journalists were not allowed to attend the hearing.
It wasn’t immediately known where the families of the accused were informed of the court proceedings through the Indian consulate in Guangzhou.
No Indian official from either the Embassy in Beijing or the Guangzhou consulate – under whose jurisdiction Kunming falls – was present in the court.
Diplomats said the court is yet to notify them about the proceedings.
The five Indians, all from Kolkata, were arrested in two separate cases in a span of two weeks from the international airport in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province.
They were identified as Feroz Khan (31), Sheikh Ismail (24), Maqsud Alam (24), Sheikh Ahmed Ali (46) and Akrar Khan (33).
One of those indicted, Ismail, is a college student.
They were flying in from Kolkata and were said to be carrying more than 24 kg of hashish hidden in their luggage.
Two of them were arrested on August 24, 2016, and rest on September 6 after they disembarked from a flight from Kolkata.
They were charged under article 347 of China’s Criminal Law, which deals with offences related to drug smuggling.
The hashish was hidden in several packets of a popular Indian snack and scores of new laptop bags in their luggage.
“It is a very serious offence. According to the law, any deals related to the sales of marijuana over 1 kg could attract a punishment of a jail term of 15 years,” Shanghai-based lawyer Wang Chune had told HT earlier.
Four Indians arrested by the police in Nanning in south China with drugs in 2008, for example, are serving life sentences, which could go on for decades.
In this case, it was learnt that the government-appointed lawyer told the court that they were poor, were carrying the drugs for money and should be given lenient sentences.
Those carrying lesser quantity of the drug could be sent to prison for seven years and the remaining three could get more years, a lawyer said, adding that if it turns out that the five had coordinated the attempted smuggling, the punishment could be more severe for all.