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Four Pakistani prisoners released from Gujarat jails

Four Pakistani prisoners released from Gujarat jails
Atari, Punjab, 30 June 2010

India sent back four Pakistani nationals, who were lodged in jails in Gujarat through the land route of Indo-Pak Attari border.

According to an official, the released Pakistanis were arrested after inadvertently crossing into India.

The Pak prisoners were identified as Misrimal, Bhimraj, Virji Shava and Jetha Kishan, all residents of Sindh province of Pakistan.

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  1. Rehman says:

    From Dawn, Pakistan,

    Most vulnerable prisoners
    By I.A. Rehman
    Thursday, 01 Jul, 2010

    At the same time civil society organisations in both India and Pakistan have reminded their governments of the plight of prisoners in adverse custody whose particulars have been documented, and called for their release. – Photo on file
    There has been some welcome news about the most vulnerable of all prisoners in South Asia — the Indians in Pakistani prisons and the Pakistanis in Indian jails — but the matter demands much greater attention than it has lately received.

    Pakistan released 17 Indians on the eve of the India-Pakistan foreign secretaries’ meeting and India released four Pakistanis when its home minister was about to visit Islamabad. Both goodwill gestures were welcome and they confirmed that if the two governments cared at all for the wretched prisoners in their jails quite a few cases fit for immediate release could always be found.

    Among the 17 Indians freed at Wagah six belonged to Rajasthan. They had reportedly spent 12 to 20 years in Pakistan prisons. The Indian NGOs that had campaigned for their release were quite understandably overjoyed and they thanked an MP who ensured their immediate departure from Attari to Rajasthan (normally, on both sides the persons released have to spend weeks in security agencies’ custody, often in great discomfort.) There was no legitimate reason why these persons should have spent over a decade in foreign jails.

    At the same time civil society organisations in both India and Pakistan have reminded their governments of the plight of prisoners in adverse custody whose particulars have been documented, and called for their release. Many have completed their sentences for illegal crossing of the border. Some others, including at least one juvenile, are facing trial. Quite a few of these prisoners were allowed consular access years ago and in some cases even travel documents have been prepared. Their continued imprisonment cannot be condoned on any ground.

    Besides, every now and then an appeal is made for the release of a POW of 1971 or even 1965 conflict whose presence at a jail in India or Pakistan is claimed to have been noticed. This matter has been hanging fire for decades, especially since Gen Musharraf’s trip to Agra in 2003. However unfounded or unreasonable these appeals may appear to hardened bureaucrats the two governments must find a way to satisfy the complainants.

    If nothing else is possible the joint judicial committee of retired judges that was created in January 2007 and which has been dormant since August 2008 may be reactivated. The committee should be allowed to visit the jails it wishes to inspect and it deserves to be treated much less shabbily than hitherto. While no state functionary is found wanting in pro-detainee rhetoric the insecurity-driven states’ foot-dragging in this case is hard to understand and harder still to forgive.

    Even more difficult is it to understand the failure of the two countries to develop a humanitarian approach to the plight of the hundreds of Indian and Pakistani fishermen rotting in each other’s jails. According to one NGO there are 247 Pakistani fishermen in Indian prisons, some of whom have been incarcerated for 15 years, and there are 580 Indian fishermen in Pakistan’s prisons.

    The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, the leading Pakistani organisation working for the interests of the large fishing community, has given a smaller number of Pakistani fishermen in Indian jails but it also put the number of Indian fishermen held in Pakistan at 580. Seventeen of these detainees have completed their sentences and yet they have not been repatriated.

    A most distressing disclosure about these 17 detainees was made by Mr Nasir Aslam Zahid who had joined the Fisherfolk Forum’s press conference in Karachi the other day. On the expiry of the 30-day period for which the authorities could detain foreign nationals after the completion of their prison terms, a review board had extended the period of their detention. The former judge of the Supreme Court, who is also a prominent member of the India-Pakistan joint judicial committee, said he could not understand the logic underlying the review board’s decision. If he cannot appreciate such decisions, laypersons are at a greater disadvantage.

    The only reason for detaining the poor fishermen indefinitely can be the non-receipt of their travel documents and if that is really the case their home government will fail not only an efficiency test but also the minimum possible standards of compassion and humanitarianism.

    One always thought the mitigating factors in the case of fishermen who accidentally violated the invisible boundaries on sea waters were duly appreciated on both sides. In normal times it was sometimes possible for NGOs or influential intermediaries to secure fishermen’s release soon after they were apprehended. But it seems the fishermen too are paying for the failure of the Indian and Pakistan governments to work out strategies for the relief of their unfortunate nationals.

    Thus, if India and Pakistan have agreed to include matters relating to people they have punished or held for illegal crossing of the borders in confidence-building measures these mighty powers can afford, the people of goodwill on both sides will be grateful because from their point of view it is not a minor or peripheral matter. No sane person will consider the unnecessary detention of even a single human being in a foreign country a small matter. Every responsible government should be keen to avoid the shame such neglect always brings. That is why leaders of big countries travel thousands of kilometers to secure the release of their nationals from foreign prisons, regardless of the latter’s liability to punishment.

    It is time India and Pakistan adopted a protocol on regular and frequent exchange of information about their nationals in the other country’s prisons, release without trial victims of inadvertent mistakes, and the provision of facilities for convicts to serve a greater part of their sentence, if not the whole of it, in the home country. Short of this their humanitarian credentials will remain suspect.

    Tailpiece: Mr Rehman Malik can always be depended upon for comic relief. Take his reported gem that Indian and Pakistani leaders should exchange their hearts instead of dossiers. Imagine Mr Malik’s heart calling through Mr Chidambaram’s mouth for an end to military excesses in the Kashmir valley and Mr Chidambaram’s heart in Mr Malik’s body crying out against Lashkar-i-Taiba or the ISI! Come to think of it, a heart swap may work, one way or another.

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