May 16, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
Rotting away in Pakistani jails for over a decade, are 17 foreign prisoners, 14 out of whom have been languishing since over a decade, but any efforts to identify their nationality is still to yield any results. Out of the 17 prisoners, four are women.
Previously, the federal interior ministry launched a public appeal for “information regarding 18 mentally-challenged prisoners, including four females, awaiting deportation for several years due to lack of information about their nationalities after having served their nominal sentences for illegal border crossing.”
Likewise the Indian High Commission in Islamabad had also put up details of 18 mentally-challenged prisoners on its website, appealing to the public in India to share any information they may have about their identities.
However Indian official sources told Voicepk that one of the prisoners, Plan Sharma, son of Poni Sharma, who was arrested on February 4, 2013, and who had been in internment since March 20, 2013 was sent back to India upon the completion of his sentence. Sharma was the only one who was verified as an Indian national, and repatriated in August 2021, according to Indian official sources, which is why his name is not mentioned in the list on the Indian HC website.
The notifications that have been issued by the federal interior ministry says that internees have been sentenced under the Foreigners’ Act for illegal entry into Pakistan.
“They are mentally challenged and unable to tell their country of origin or Identity,” reads the notification. They have completed their sentences but cannot be deported or released due to a lack of identity.”
The list posted by the Indian HC carries a little bit more detail about the approximate age, the presumed state/province of residence, and the identification marks of the prisoners.
For example it has been revealed that one of the prisoners who has hearing and speech disabilities has been interned in ‘a Pakistani jail’ for close to 20 years. Arrested on March 26, 2002, the unnamed foreigner completed his three-month sentence on June 27, 2002, but till date there are no signs of his release.
The 50-year-old man has a black mole on the left side of his eye brow.
In two separate undated notifications on the interior ministry’s website, the public at large has been asked to provide any information about these foreigners to the interior ministry officials on a listed contact number. The notification has pictures and names with aliases of the mentally-challenged prisoners who are ‘believed to be Indian nationals’. The notification mentions their date of arrest and the date of the completion of their sentence.
Two of the women have been interned for over 15 years in Pakistani jails. A woman named Nakiya, daughter of Dharma, has served the longest period in internment in Pakistan among the four mentally-challenged foreign females. Arrested on April 30, 2007, she completed her sentence on September 10, 2007.
According to the Indian High Commission’s website, Nakiya or Naqaya who also goes by aliases of ‘Nikia’ and ‘Seema’ is presumed to be from the Bihar state in India and is approximately 45 years old. She has a small light patch near the left eye which has been taken as an identification mark.
Esma Maskan who was arrested on May 10, 2007 and completed her sentence on, September 12, 2007 goes by the aliases of ‘Bhaiya’, ‘Devi’, and ‘Lakshmi’ and is about 34 years old. She is said to have a light cut mark on her forehead and a light mole on her neck according to the information given on the Indian High Commission website.
The other two women are Ajeera, daughter of Asmola, who was arrested on May 13, 2009 and served her sentence till March 22, 2009; and Gullo Jan, wife of Nandraj, who was arrested on October 17, 2011 and has been in prison ever since, even after the completion of her three-month sentence for border crossing. Ajeera has been named ‘Ajmeera’ with aliases of ‘Ajbeera’ and ‘Ajeeran’ on the Indian list. She is approximately 30 years old and a resident of the West Bengal state in India. Her identification mark is listed as a thick lower lip.
Meanwhile male prisoner Ismo Maskan has been interned for 18 years in Pakistan despite completion of his sentence on January 23, 2004. The 34-year-old foreigner was arrested for illegal border crossing on December 24, 2003.
Siloraf Saleem, son of Burhan Radi, was arrested July 23, 2009 and is interned in a Pakistani jail since the completion of his sentence on January 9, 2010. His other aliases are ‘Sheikh Salim’, ‘Seikh Salim’ and ‘Silrof Salim’. He is said to be a resident of Bharampur of Khandwa district in Madhya Pradesh state. The 41-year-old man has a cut mark on his right upper lip.
Kishwa Bhagwan, son of Chaninwan alias Challan Wan, was arrested on April 7, 2010, spending close to 12 years in internment after completing his sentence on July 7, 2010. The 40-year-old man has a light patch mark on his nose.
Roopi Pall, son of Nan Chander Pall, was arrested for illegal border crossing February 3, 2010. ‘Ropi Paul’ and ‘Rupi Paul’ are his other aliases. His father’s alias is mentioned as ‘Mann Chandar Paul’. He is a presumed resident of Madyakalyani village in Nadia district of West Bengal state in India. The 31-year-old man has a mole behind his right ear. He has been interred since July 7, 2010.
Bipla, son of Master Kulla alias ‘Master Kala’, is said to be a resident of Uttar Paradesh state in India. The 35-year-old man goes by the aliases of ‘Billa’ and ‘Baila’ and has a cut mark on his left chin.
Raju Roy, son of Baboo Roy, is presumed to be resident of Indian state of Bihar. The 46-year-old man has a cut mark near left eyebrow. He is known by aliases of ‘Raju Rai’ and ‘Jai Prakash’. Raju is 46 years old with a cut mark near his left eye brow. He was arrested on July 19, 2010 and interned since March 29, 2011.
Hamid, son of Murtash, was arrested on February 13, 2009. The 45-year-old foreigner has a black mole on the left side of his nose. He completed his one-year imprisonment for illegal border crossing on February 13, 2010.
One more unidentified foreigner with hearing and speech disabilities was arrested for illegal border crossing on March 13, 2015. He completed his sentence on January 4, 2017. The man is aged between 30 to 35 years.
Sham Sundar alias Gonga Behra, son of Sheri Bhagwatan, also has speech and hearing disabilities. He has spent about 10 years in internment after being arrested for illegal border crossing on March 27, 2011. He completed his sentence on April 7, 2012. The 34-year-old foreigner is presumed to be a resident of Islampur of Saharsa district in India’s Bihar state. He has big upper frontal teeth.
Raju, son of Samual, is said to be a resident of Raipara village near Boulaghata Rail Station in Hooghly district of West Bengal. The 25-year-old man has a small mole on the right cheek. He was arrested on January 24, 2015 and served his eight months imprisonment on September 29, 2015.
Ramesh alias Maddur Ramesh, son of Swami, was arrested on December 6, 2013. The 30-year-old man is believed to be a resident of Porbander in Gujarat state of India. He has a mole on the right side of his neck. Ramesh completed his sentence on March 27, 2014.
Raju alias Littan, son of Goda, was arrested on August 18, 2012. He completed his sentence on November 17, 2012. He is not listed among the mentally-challenged persons on the Indian High Commission website.
‘CONSULAR ACCESS IS INTEGRAL’
“Consular access must be given within the first three months, so that the governments can exchange information officially about all the people in their custody, believed to be citizens from the other side,” says Jatin Desai. “Consular access will include the date of the arrest, the charges under which they had been jailed, their consular access status and case status.”
Jatin Desai is an Indian journalist and peace activist who works for cross-border prisoners and is associated with PIPFPD (Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy) – an organization founded by the late human rights veteran I.A Rehman.
Desai specifies that for a family to find their relative who has been arrested across the border, it is a challenging task. He says that initially there was no mechanism in place to get any information about missing family members who may have been arrested in the other’s territory. “Sometimes families are unaware of members who have even crossed borders or overstayed exceeding their visas and were arrested. Things changed after an agreement was signed though.”
The Agreement on Consular Access signed on May 21, 2008 was done to develop better relations between the two countries. Among other things it included sharing information on prisoners.
“There is a clause that both the countries shall provide consular access within three months of the arrest,” says Desai. “But it always takes longer. The sentence is just three months for the violation of a passport or trespassing. But as court procedures take a long time, it ends up in one or two years in general before the matter is closed.”
Also In most cases, consular access is delayed – though there is a written agreement, says Desai. “There is also a lacuna that there is no mention of how many days the nationality should be confirmed in. Although in the case that the prisoner is mentally challenged it is even more difficult.”
In such a case, he says, the respective government must publicize the news and their photographs in the country’s mainstream media as well as on social media, so that their relatives may identify them.
Till now, not much can be found on these prisoners on the media on the Indian side. However in one news piece published in The Hindu, in June 2021, it says that Pakistan had conveyed the situation of 17 (previously 18) mentally challenged prisoners to India six years ago.
Meanwhile, according to Indian official sources, the Indian officials were given consular access to these mentally challenged foreign prisoners in the Pakistani jails, but they were not able to verify if they were Indian nationals because of the state of their physical and mental health. “The Indian government had proposed to Pakistan to allow a visit of Indian medical experts to examine these foreign prisoners but as yet no response has been received,” says the source.
Similarly, New Delhi also proposed the revival of the Indo-Pak Judicial Committee on Prisoners to look into the release of elderly prisoners on humanitarian grounds. The committee was formed in 2007 for legal and humanitarian support to these prisoners – both civilian and fisher folk – but has not met since 2013. It comprised retired judges on both sides. It was Pakistan that was meant to organize the next meeting but so far there has been nothing.
“New Delhi has expressed serious concern at the plight of prisoners and has urged both the states to work together on this humanitarian issue,” says the source.
“As of May 2022, there are three Indian civilians who have completed their sentence but they not been deported despite verification of their nationality,” added the Indian official sources. “Out of the 652 Indian fishermen imprisoned in Pakistani jails, 335 have completed their sentences but have not been deported to India.”
Meanwhile, according to the lists of civilian prisoners and fishermen exchanged between India and Pakistan in January 2022, India currently has 282 Pakistani civilian prisoners and 73 fishermen in its custody.
Till now, no response has been received by Voicepk from the interior ministry regarding the issue.
The situation is inhumane and violated Article 12(4) of the United Nations General Assembly’s ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his/her own country.” Both countries are party to this covenant but are not following it.
According to Desai, there have been previous promises also in the case of cross-border prisoners, including the Ufa declaration of 2015 and the Heart of Asia Conference in 2016.
“Both sides accept that the issue needs to be looked at through a humanitarian approach,” he says. “They all deserve to be back with their families as soon as possible and both governments should make an effort for this.”