The family of a British property developer jailed in the United Arab Emirates is requesting that he be pardoned in conjunction with the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

Safi Qurashi was sentenced to seven years in a Dubai prison for bouncing three cheques, an act considered a criminal offence. Al Jazeera's Dan Nolan reports from Dubai on a case that has advocates calling for legal reform.

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Convictions for writing bad cheques can carry stiff sentences, and they have landed dozens of Dubai residents in jail. The emirate has actually established a special court to handle these cases, and the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National reported that it hears hundreds of cases each week.

The sums involved are often quite steep: A British man was jailed last year for bouncing a cheque worth Dh180,000 ($49,000), and an Emirati man faces jail time this month for a bad cheque worth Dh6.7 million ($1.8 million).

Activists say the law should be changed to replace jail time with a fine, except in cases of serious or repeat offenders. But judicial officials in the UAE insist on taking a hard line. The minister of justice set up a committee last year to study the law, but so far it has recommended few changes.

"A criminal judge is not concerned about what circumstances the cheque was issued under," Judge Ahmed Saif, the chief justice of the Dubai criminal courts, told The National.

Source: Al Jazeera