September 16th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
“We came to know of our father’s death in Indian jail through a police officer who came to verify his nationality to our house last month,” said Jafar Alam, eldest son of 45-year-old Pakistani fisherman Ameer Hamza who was imprisoned in India for violation of territorial waters four years ago.
Hamza’s dead body was handed over to Pakistani authorities on the Wagah border on Tuesday. An Edhi official in Lahore said authorities had handed over the dead body which would be sent on a flight to Karachi on Wednesday evening.
Human rights activists pointed out that a joint judicial committee on prisoners between India and Pakistan has been dormant for about 8 years, adding that this has added to the misery and plight of hapless fishermen and civilians of both countries imprisoned in each other’s jails.
Ameer Hamza, son of Safar Ahmed, was among seven Pakistani fishermen on board the fishing boat Al-Najam when they were arrested by Indian Navy on charges on of violation of Indian maritime boundary in November 2017, Jafar Alam, the eldest of Hamza’s nine children, told Voicepk.net on the phone from his home in Karachi.
“We were told about his death when a police official came to their neighbourhood with a picture of their father,” he said, adding that the relatives recognized that the picture was of Ameer Hamza and the police official told them that he had passed away in an Indian jail.
The Indian government had intimated Pakistan about his death last month. The Sindh police confirmed Hamza’s nationality after a ground verification visit to his home at Ali Akbar Shah Goth in Korangi locality. Jafar Alam said none of his father’s companions had returned home or had any word of their wellbeing in India.
Alam said that his family knew nothing about the whereabouts of their father all these years. “We were told about his death when a police official came to their neighbourhood with a picture of their father,” he said, adding that the relatives recognized that the picture was of Ameer Hamza and the police official told them that he had passed away in an Indian jail.
Alam said his mother had passed away eight years ago and their 45-year-old father was the sole breadwinner of the family. The family was living a hand-to-mouth existence since their father was arrested by Indian security forces, he added.
According to a list of prisoners exchanged between India and Pakistan, there were 345 Pakistani prisoners in India including 271 civilians and 74 fishermen. Similarly, there are 609 Indian prisoners in Pakistan including 51 civilians and 558 fishermen.
“Currently, there are 218 Pakistani/believed-to-be Pakistani fishermen in Indian jails, while there are 558 Indian/believed-to-be Indian fishermen in Pakistani jails,” Asim Iftikhar, Spokesperson of Foreign Office told Voicepk.net in a written response. Since 1st July, 4 civilian Pakistani prisoners have been repatriated from Indian jails, he added.
Human rights activist Saeed Baloch said imprisoned fishermen are being treated as prisoners of war by both of the countries. “The high commissions in both countries are not informed of the arrest of the Indian or Pakistani fishermen so that consular access can be requested,” he said.
According to the Fishermen Cooperative Society, Hamza succumbed to constant ill-treatment by the Indian jail staff. In March, an Indian fisherman Ramesh Taba died in Karachi prison. He had completed his prison sentence in Pakistan in July 2019 yet he was not released and repatriated from Pakistan and died as a detainee, according to Jatin Desai, the former general secretary of the Indian chapter of Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD).
India-Pakistan Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners non-functional since 2013
The India-Pakistan Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners, formed in 2007 for the expeditious release of prisoners of the respective countries in each other’s jails, is dormant since its last meeting in 2013. The 8-member committee consists of four retired judges from each country.
“Pakistan-India Judicial Committee on Prisoners is currently dormant,” Foreign Office Spokesperson Asim Iftikhar said in his written response to the question of whether Pakistan had notified its members of the joint judicial committee.
“Our High Commission is continuously in touch with the Indian authorities for early repatriation of prisoners and the Government of India is reminded time and again of its responsibility to take the issue of expeditious repatriation of prisoners on humanitarian grounds,” he concluded.
The Indian government has notified its members but Pakistan has not given names of its members, according to Muhammad Tahseen, convener of the Pakistani chapter of PIPFPD.
In July, the Indian Foreign Affairs Ministry proposed to organise an early visit of the Indian members of the Joint Judicial Committee to Pakistan.
“The Indian members of the joint judicial committee used to visit jails in Pakistan and vice versa Pakistani members visited jails in India to inquire about prisoners from their respective countries,” he explained. “The members used to check whether the nationality of the prisoners have been confirmed and if it has been confirmed whether consular access has been given or not,” Tahseen added.
Similarly, the joint judicial committee members also used to monitor delay in repatriation of prisoners who had completed their sentence as well as an intimation to their families, Tahseen said.
“Unfortunately, scores of impoverished teenaged and elderly fishermen are now rotting in Pakistan and Indian jails because of no oversight in the absence of the joint judicial committee,” he added. The meetings of the joint judicial committee also fostered talks of peace between the countries, Tahsen said.
Baloch, who is also general secretary of the union of the Fishermen Cooperative Society, said the visits of the joint judicial committee helped families of imprisoned fishermen stay abreast of their loved ones. During jail visits, committee members used to meet imprisoned fishermen and inquire from officials about their term of sentence and consular visits, he added. “Since the lapse of the joint judicial committee, condition of Indian and Pakistan prisoners has worsened to an unspeakable level,” he said.
Talking about Ameer Hamza’s companions, Baloch said the families of the six other fishermen arrested along with Ameer Hamza have yet received no word from the federal government about their whereabouts in India.
PIPFPD convener Muhammad Tahseen called on Pakistan and India to immediately revive Pakistan-India Judicial Committee on Prisoners on humanitarian grounds in order to provide relief to scores of elderly, women and children languishing in each other’s jails.