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September 11, 2010

India announces release of Pakistani prisoners


September 11, 2010

After the release of 442 Indian fishermen by Pakistan government, India has announced to release 31 Pakistani prisoners, including seven fishermen on September 15, 2010. They will be handed over to Pakistan authorities at Wagah border on 15th.
However, in case of other 58 prisoners, whose sentence is over and India is willing to release, their nationality is yet to be verified by the Pakistan government, said a press release issued by Piler. The Pakistani Interior Ministry’s slow response to the request for verification of the nationality of the detained fishermen has subjected the 58 Pakistani prisoners to several months of ordeal and torment.
Meanwhile, India has announced to release 85 Pakistani prisoners, mostly fishermen, in a goodwill gesture on the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr.
Chairperson Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) Mohammed Ali Shah, who was the main signatory to file a petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which ordered the government to ensure safe release of Indian fishermen, said that they were expecting positive response from the Indian side. There are 158 Pakistani fishermen, belonging to Thatta and Karachi, languishing in Indian jails. All these fishermen have served their sentences for “violating” a non-demarcated sea border between Pakistan and India.
There were nine Pakistani fishermen arrested under the charges of narcotics smuggling, who have completed their sentences and the Indian government processed the case for their release but after the Mumbai incident the process was suspended. World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP) had been raising the voice to find permanent solution to avoid arrest of fishermen while they are engaged in livelihood activities.
A delegation of Pakistani and Indian civil society leaders working for the release of detained fishermen in India and Pakistan met Chairperson United Progressive Alliance Sonia Gandhi, Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram and Indian Minister for External Affairs S M

Krishna in India on Friday.
The Pakistani delegation comprised Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, former Law and Human Rights Minister and Senator Iqbal Haider, Executive Director Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research Karamat Ali, Indian Journalist Kuldip Nayar, Indian filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and Indian activist Jatin Desai.
During her meeting with Indian and Pakistani delegation, Sonia Gandhi assured help on prisoners’ issue. The Pakistani delegates thanked Sonia Gandhi for assisting Pakistan’s flood victims and requested more help in the form of food and medicines. They also urged Gandhi to ask the Indian government to take initiative to call a meeting of the SAARC countries for setting up a relief fund for the people of Pakistan. Gandhi thanked Pakistani civil society members for their initiative for the release of 454 Indian fishermen.
Lack of political will and bureaucratic snags have been a major factor in compromising the lives and rights of the fishermen on both sides of the border.
There is no demarcation on the sea border between Pakistan and India, causing accidental border violations by the fishermen on the two sides. Though there is a six-month sentence for such violations, many of these prisoners are kept in jail for years, as each country uses them as a political tool against the other country. After the release of the 442 detained Indian fishermen by Pakistan in the last two weeks, there are still 14 Indian prisoners awaiting verification from the Indian High Commission concerning their nationality. Similarly, the 58 Pakistani prisoners in Indian jail await a nod from the Pakistan’s Interior Ministry that has yet to take up the Indian request to verify their nationality.
The release of these fishermen was made possible through extensive civil society efforts including petitions filed with the Supreme Courts of the two countries to call attention to the human rights violations being committed by Pakistan and India in forcing the prisoners to stay beyond their sentence period.
The civil society of Pakistan has been advocating long-term measures to address the issue since the legal proceedings following the detention of fishermen for border violations are always long-drawn and political motivations too make their way into the process, hampering their timely release. The civil society proposes provision of fishermen’s identity card for easy identification of the individuals who are engaged only in fishing but not for other purpose to avoid unnecessary investigation on any other charges.
The delegation has urged the Pakistan’s Interior Ministry and the Indian Commission to expedite the verification process to ensure early release of the 58 Pakistani prisoners and 14 Indian prisoners. “Any more delay in their release caused by bureaucratic hurdles will be a violation of the basic rights of the detained individuals who have already paid a high price for their respective governments’ non-commitment to resolving border issues,” the statement said.
PTI adds: In a goodwill gesture on the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr, India announced on Friday the release of 85 Pakistani prisoners, mostly fishermen, lodged in various jails in the country.
“On September 9, orders have been issued releasing 58 fishermen lodged in Gujarat jails, subject to issue of travel documents by Pakistan authorities,” a statement released by the Union home ministry said.
Apart from them, seven prisoners each from Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, one from Rajasthan and two from Delhi are also being released. Besides, three other prisoners lodged in Gujarat jails would be repatriated.
The Pakistan government has intimated a list of 43 fishermen.
“However, only seven of them could be cleared for release at the moment. Release order in respect of these seven persons has been issued.
“However, due to logistic issues, Pakistan government has indicated that they would be able to receive them only on September 15.
Therefore, it has been decided that apart from seven fishermen, three other prisoners lodged in Gujarat jails would also be repatriated on September 15,” a home ministry official said.
It said that the Gujarat government has been advised to move the appropriate court in respect of 55 Pakistani fishermen facing trial, so that the cases against them could be withdrawn and they could be repatriated to Pakistan.
The prisoners from Punjab, J&K, Rajasthan and Delhi would also be repatriated on September 15 at Attari-Wagah border.
Indian government has released 128 prisoners and repatriated them to Pakistan via Attari this year.
With the fresh orders, a total of 213 Pakistani prisoners will be released in the calendar year 2010.
On September 6, a group of 141 Indian fishermen were released by Pakistani authorities from a Karachi jail, completing the process of freeing 442 fishermen who have completed their prison terms.

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