August 3, 2022
By Ahmed Saeed
South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional alliance of human rights activists, has urged the SAARC member states to release and repatriate prisoners of each other’s countries, especially women and elderly inmates, as soon as they have completed their prison sentences.
In an issued joint statement, 31 human rights organizations from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries demanded all the SAARC countries to humanely treat those fisherfolk who had crossed the unmarked maritime boundaries and called for immediate decriminialising of inadvertent border crossings.
Fisherfolk organisations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are also signatory to the statement.
The statement called for the revival of the India-Pakistan Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners and to allow medical teams of the other country to periodically visit and conduct inspections.
It was also demanded to Institute similar bilateral committees between India and Sri Lanka, and also India and Bangladesh.
The statement also pressed for giving consular access to cross-border prisoners and communication between them and their relatives, including the option of online communication.
According to the statement, Pakistan holds 632 Indian fishermen in Karachi’s Landhi Jail, while India holds 95 Pakistani fishermen in prisons in Gujarat. All were arrested for inadvertently crossing the maritime boundary.
The statement said that the Pakistan and India should allow those who are jailed in or who die in Sindh and Gujarat to be repatriated through the sea route or Khokhrapar border rather than having them travel 1000 km up-country to Wagah-Atari border, and down again to their homes.
The statement also shared anecdotes of the plight of fishermen who died under custody.
Kalu Vira, a fisherman from India incarcerated in Pakistan died at a hospital in Karachi on 6 July 2022. He had completed his jail term in December 2021, and his nationality had been verified.
After his passing, it took over 10 days for the Pakistan authorities to inform the Indian High Commission about the death.
As of July 31, Kalu Vira’s mortal remains are yet to be repatriated. Meanwhile his family members came to learn of the tragedy through other means and are desperately awaiting the return of his mortal remains.
Amir Hamza, a Bengali migrant fisherman from Karachi arrested by the Indian Coast Guards in 2017 died of COVID-19 in India in June 2021. It took the authorities three months to repatriate his body to Pakistan. He, too, had completed his prison sentence but had been left languishing in custody.
“All countries of the region must institute measures to ameliorate the plight of the incarcerated in their custody, particularly cross-border prisoners. This will also help build confidence and trust between the two countries and improve overall neighbourly relations in the South Asian region”, the statement read.