Kerala nurse facing death penalty in Yemen: the murder case Nimisha Priya is convicted in | Explained News


Priya stands convicted of killing a Yemeni citizen in 2017. The HC was hearing a petition moved by Priya’s mother Prema Kumari, seeking the Centre’s permission to go to Yemen and conduct negotiations for her release.

Nimisha Priya allegedly killed a man who falsely claimed she was his wife and abused her. Here are the details of her case, and what has been done to help her so far.

The accused

Nimisha Priya, now 34, is a nurse hailing from Kollengode in Kerala’s Palakkad. Her parents Velayudankutty and Prema Kumari are daily-wage labourers. After completing her nursing training in 2008, Priya worked in Kerala for a while before moving to Yemen, then a destination for nurses from India. In 2011, she married Tomy Thomas, a native of Thodupuzha in Idukki.

Festive offer

A year later, the couple returned to Sana’a in Yemen, where Priya worked as a nurse and Thomas as an electrician. Dreaming of better income, the couple decided to start their own clinic. As foreigners were not allowed to own such a venture, the Kerala couple scouted for a partner from Yemen.

The murdered man

According the case details as revealed by Priya’s family, she first met Talal Abdo Mahdi at a clinic where she worked as a nurse, and where he would come along with his family to seek treatment. While looking for a business partner, she and her husband approached Mahdi. In the middle of 2014, Tomy returned to Kerala along with their daughter, born in Yemen, to raise money for the clinic.

In January, 2015, Priya came back to Kerala for her daughter’s baptism. Mahdi accompanied her as a visitor. In March, 2015, Priya returned to Yemen and launched the new clinic, while Tomy and their baby stayed back in Kerala. They planned to return to Yemen after raising enough money for the clinic. But the civil war then broke out in Yemen, upsetting their travel plans. The father and daughter are still in Kerala.

Troubled start for clinic

Priya and Mahdi launched the clinic with a doctor and staff, gaining business. But the owner of the health centre where Priya had worked earlier created trouble over the loss of his business.

According to what Priya told her family, she was forced to ink an ownership deal for the clinic in such a manner that her former employer had 33 per cent shares and Mahdi 67 per cent. Cracks started developing in the clinic business after Mahdi refused to share its income with Priya. He also allegedly forged documents to show her as his wife. He sought complete ownership of the clinic and wanted them to live as a married couple. When Priya refused, she was tortured, her family said.

Days of abuse

Dispute between the partners landed them in a criminal case, leading to a short jail term for both. Mahdi allegedly told people he had legally married Priya during his Kerala visit. When their case reached a local court, Mahdi produced forged documents showing them as husband and wife. The court accepted his argument. Priya told her family that once released from jail, Mahdi continued to physically abuse her, and also forced her to have sexual relations with his friends.

The clinic continued to function, but its income never reached Priya. Mahdi was a married man and drug addict who had been to jail several times. As the abuse escalated, Priya pleaded with Mahdi to return her travel documents and passports, which he refused. He also did not allow her to speak to her family in Kerala.

Mahdi’s murder

When Mahdi was in jail, Priya would visit him and ask for her travel papers. Apparently realising her plight, one of the officers at the jail offered help. The officer said he would help in getting Mahdi to sign a divorce document and in retrieving her passport, and also suggested that Priya sedate Mahdi.

In July 2017, Mahdi had fallen sick due to some infection. Priya then injected him with sedatives. In this, she was assisted by a Yemeni nurse, Hannan, whom she knew from her clinic days. The overdose led to the sudden death of Mahdi. The officer’s offer of help did not materialise.

On Hannan’s advice, Mahdi’s body was chopped into several pieces, packed into bags, and dumped in a water tank. The two then went into hiding, but the police found them. Hannan was arrested first, and Priya a month later.


The case was tried in a lower court in Yemen, which in 2020 awarded the death sentence to Priya and life term to Hannan. With no money, Priya could not arrange a lawyer, but the trial court gave legal assistance. Her mercy pleas were rejected by appeal courts in subsequent verdicts, as Mahdi’s family raised objections.

Save Nimisha Priya campaign

As her story reached India, steps to secure her release gained momentum. In 2020, the Save Nimish Priya International Action Council was formed. The council is still actively pursuing her cause, seeking support from various quarters at the national and international levels.

Steps the Centre took

The External Affairs Ministry in early 2023 told Parliament that the Government of India had provided assistance in the case, including by seeking consular access to Nimisha Priya in jail and providing a lawyer to represent her case from the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF).

Why Priya’s family wants to go to Yemen

Priya’s family, including her mother Prema Kumari and her 10-year-old daughter are among a delegation that wants to meet Mahdi’s family in Yemen, pleading for pardon. Once all legal formalities are exhuasted, Islamic law allows the release of a convict after paying blood money. The delegation will explore this possibility too.

The family members and action council representatives, as per the Delhi high court directive, have submitted relevant documents with the External Affairs Ministry for grant of travel permission to Yemen. In the wake of the civil war in that country, India has banned travel to Yemen. However, the government, in a recent notification, said that the travel ban could be relaxed for “specific reasons and durations.”


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