Various civil society organizations and prominent citizens of India and Pakistan have jointly urged Indian and Pakistani PMs to release and repatriate all arrested fish workers and women prisoners of each other’s country from their custody. The fish workers get arrested for crossing their country’s water ‘inadvertently’. They have asked both the PMs to release them on ‘humanitarian grounds’ on the occasion of their upcoming Independence Day celebrations 14-15 August.
The letter is signed by prominent organizations like Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD); South Asian Partnership (SAP); Legal Aid Office, Karachi; Edhi Foundation; Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum; Aman ki Asha; National Fishworkers’ Forum, Aaghaz-e-Dosti etc. The prominent persons include Admiral (R) L Ramdas, IA Rehman, Faisal Edhi, Mahesh Bhatt, Nandita Das, Syeda Hamid, Beena Sarwar, Anjum Rajabali, Teesta Setalvad, Tahseen, Karamat Ali, Haya Zahid, Anis Haroon, Tapan Bose, Vijayan MJ, Jatin Desai among others.
The letter says, ”Both countries regularly repatriate prisoners as a gesture of goodwill during Independent Day celebrations, or on the eve of major religious celebrations. Given the humanitarian crisis posed by COVID-19, we urge you to repatriate these prisoners so that they can reunite with their families.”
Time and again both the countries have accepted that these fishermen are innocents and they are never involved in any illegal activities. Once arrested, they have to spend around two years in another country’s prison. They suffer and so their families. The scenario of coastal villages is depressing as women wait for their husbands, brothers or son-in-laws to return.
The lists exchanged by India and Pakistan on 1st July says 270 Indian fishermen and 97 Pakistani fishermen are in each other countries prisons. 54 Indian civilian prisoners and 265 Pakistani civilian prisoners are also in the custody of each other’s country.
Signatories demands are as follows:
Release and repatriate all the fish workers and women prisoners from each other’s custody.
Revive the judicial committee on prisoners immediately and Pakistan should call a meeting, as the last meeting was held in India in October 2013.
Allow Pakistani and Indian medical teams to examine prisoners of their countries.
Release fishing boats that can sail with some repair work. If necessary, a team can be sent to inspect. As fishing boats are the only source of livelihood it is important that they get it back. Pakistan had released 57 Indian fishing boats in 2015 and had assured to release 22 more. This is still pending.
Implement the Agreement on Consular Access in letter and spirit and give Consular Access within the three months of arrest.
Complete nationality verification within three months of consular access. There are cases where prisoners are languishing in prisons even after completion of their sentences.