April 14, 2023
Cross-border group Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD),has urged for the immediate attention of the Indian and Pakistani governments regarding the plight of over 750 prisoners from the fisherfolk community of both countries who have been languishing in jails on both sides.
The PIPFPD has reiterated that the fishermen were arrested for ‘violating’ the territorial waters of the country of origin and charged with trespassing the water borders.But in reality, many of the fisherfolk are pushed to the other territories by unprecedented storms as they try and catch fish for a living.
Out of those that have been jailed, most have already completed their sentences while their nationality is confirmed, informed a formal statement issued by the group, which has been signed by 29 groups and individuals including the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) and National Fish Workers Forum (NFWF) in India.
According to available records, 654 Indian fishermen are in Karachi’s Landhi jail, while 118 Pakistani fisher people are in Indian jails, with 83 of them in various prisons in the Indian state of Gujarat. The release of these prisoners has constantly been delayed, despite the bilateral Agreement on Consular Access 2008 which clearly states that both governments must release all persons within one month of confirmation of their national status and completion of their sentences.
PIPFPD called upon the heads of both countries to take this issue seriously and release innocent fishermen from both sides in Ramzan and Eid. They also reminded the present government of Pakistan that the Supreme Court had ruled in 2010 that a fisherperson whose sentence had expired and who was not involved in any other crime should be released immediately.
The organization has also demanded that any minors accompanying fishermen should not be arrested and that steps should be taken for their immediate release. Additionally, their confiscated boats – which are their source of livelihood – should be returned to them so that they can immediately support their families and contribute to the country’s economy.
In 2007, Pakistan and India had proposed the constitution of a joint judicial committee to oversee the release of jailed fishermen which has remained inactive since 2016.
PIPFPD urged the two countries to revive the judicial committee to regularly review the situation of prisoners in their respective countries and ensure the immediate release of prisoners who have completed their sentences.
The initiative towards formation of Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy was taken in late 1993 and the first joint declaration was announced on September 4, 1994 at Lahore. The objective of this initiative was to facilitate common people in both the countries to listen to voices that are different from the belligerent voices of the respective Governments.