Aaghaz-e-Dosti released the latest list of Indian and Pakistani civilian prisoners and fishermen who are lodged in jails on other side of the border. This list is as per data exchanged between India and Pakistan as on 1st January 2021 under the consular access agreement between the two governments that was signed in 2008. This list can be accessed at the official blog of Aaghaz-e-Dosti. Aaghaz-e-Dosti is the first such initiative that is releasing such a detailed list of cross border prisoners since 2014.
As per Aaghaz-e-Dosti, there are 49 Indian civilian prisoners lodged in jails of Pakistan. Among these, 32 persons have already completed their sentence including 18 who have completed their sentence more than five years ago but still could not return to their home country. Oldest case is of a person who completed sentence in 2004 but still could not return despite passing 17 years. There are 2 prisoners whose identity is unknown as they are deaf and dumb and they both completed sentence. One prisoner sentenced to death and 6 are undertrial prisoners who were arrested in the year 2019 and 2020.
There are 263 Pakistani civilian prisoners lodged in jails of India. Among these, 67 have completed their sentence including one prisoner who completed sentence in 1998 and a few others of years 2006, 2010 and 2014 also but they could not return to their home country. There are 54 prisoners who are undergoing sentence, for 17 status is unknown while 125 are undertrials. There are 6 prisoners whose particulars are unknown as they are deaf and dumb.
There are a total 77 Pakistani fishermen in Indian jails mostly caught during 2018 to 2020 and oldest cases are of 2013 and 2014. Total 270 Indian fishermen are lodged in Pakistani jails. It seems that in total 300-400 prisoners and fishermen are being maintained by both sides.
With the data, many prisoners have already completed their sentences but still could not return to their home country, it is possible because of hurdles such as identity confirmation or NOCs from respective states.
“This should be considered on priority by both sides of the government, and they should work to clear all such cases and to ensure return of persons in their home country without any further delay. For a person who belongs to another country, delaying their return and keeping them in another country itself is not lesser than the jail terms. The right to return to the home country is assured in Article 12(4) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Also, for persons who are declared deaf and dumb by respective states, there must be efforts to bring such cases for identity confirmation and their release should be expedited. Identity confirmation exercise can also be done through public advertisements in print and electronic mediums. Aaghaz-e-Dosti demands that issues of these cross-border prisoners and fishermen should be dealt with in a humanitarian way,” the statement reads.
Aaghaz-e-Dosti also suggested various measures that should be taken by both sides of the government in view of the problems faced by prisoners and fishermen and also in view of the spread of pandemic where protection of lives is the most important task.
The list of prisoners and fishermen should be made public by joint efforts of both the governments as sometimes even family members don’t know about their family members who are lodged in jail on the other side. There is a chance that advocates, and civil society members would like to take such cases of cross border prisoners to offer legal and humanitarian support. These details can be made public through an official portal which can be updated time to time as per arrest of new persons, release of existing and with updated case status.
For civilian prisoners, whose sentence has already been completed, they should be released without delay. It is evident that many such persons whose sentences have been completed, but they are still in jails or detention centres, mostly due to pending documentation, NOCs and identity confirmation. Both sides must take it on priority to ensure release.
For civilian prisoners, minor crimes can be waived off as a goodwill gesture towards each other and for other crimes, review should be done and govt. of both sides can take decision to offer parole. Also, for prisoners who have only six months pending in completion of sentence, they can be repatriated in their home country for a pending six months jail term or as per repatriation of prisoner policy of respective states with transfer of sentence to be served in their home country. India and Pakistan should sign an agreement on such repatriation policy.
Fishermen who are lodged on both sides should be released immediately as they are not criminals and there are no such criminal charges against them. They have been caught in the sea while fishing and they deserve to be made free. In earlier years also, fishermen have been released by both sides of governments as a goodwill message but there should be a mechanism under which fishermen detention should be worked out to keep their jail term minimum.
Indian fishermen are jailed in large numbers in Pakistan and their boats are also seized. As per the information received, there are about 1110 fishing boats which are believed to be in captivity of Pakistan, and these should also be released so that fishermen can get their resources back to survive livelihood.
The Indo-Pak Joint Judicial committee which was formed in 2007 needs to be revived without delay. Its meeting couldn’t happen since 2013 and Govt. of Pakistan need to take this up to organise the meeting.
Aaghaz-e-Dosti also appeals that both sides of governments should prepare a joint plan to deal with issues of prisoners and fishermen for a permanent solution.
Fishermen being caught at sea should be freed in sea with minimum penalties and their boats should not be confiscated. Similarly, civilians who cross over territories or stay longer than visa validity can be repatriated with minor penalties. Teenagers, women, deaf and dumb persons should be considered for speedy release after investigation. Speedy trials should happen for undertrials.