Fishermen freed by Pakistan, but many Indians languishing in jails across border

According to an agreement signed in May 2008, India and Pakistan share lists of nationals lodged in each other’s jails twice every year – on January 1 and July 1.

india Updated: Nov 02, 2017 16:28 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Indian fishermen,Indians in Pakistan jail,Pakistan jail
File photo of Indian fishermen released from Pakistan’s jails in 2014.(Sameer Sehgal/HT File Photo)

Sixty-eight Gujarat fishermen released by Pakistan will reach Vadodara on Thursday night, four days after the country freed the men it alleged had violated its territorial waters.

According to an agreement signed in May 2008, India and Pakistan share lists of nationals lodged in each other’s jails twice every year – on January 1 and July 1.

In July, India’s ministry of external affairs said it “remains committed to addressing on priority all humanitarian matters with Pakistan, including those pertaining to prisoners and fishermen. In this context, we await from Pakistan confirmation of nationality of those in India’s custody who are otherwise eligible for release and repatriation.”

How many Indians in Pakistani jails?

At least 546 Indian nationals, including nearly 500 fishermen, were languishing in Pakistani jails, according to a list Pakistan handed over to India in July. Pakistan’s foreign office said the Indian prisoners included “52 civilians and 494 fishermen”.

The foreign office said 219 Indian fishermen were released on January 6 this year.

The external affairs ministry said in July: “India again requested Pakistan to grant full and early consular access to the Indian nationals lodged in the custody of Pakistan, including Hamid Nehal Ansari and Kulbhushan Jadav.”

Apart from Jadhav and Ansari, there are 13 others lodged in Pakistan jails on charges of spying.

Jadhav, a former Indian Navy officer, has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court for alleged involvement in espionage and subversive activities. His execution was stayed after India took the matter to the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Pakistan has also refused consular access to Ansari, a 27-year-old management teacher from Mumbai, who went to Pakistan in search of a woman he fell in love on Facebook.

He disappeared after reaching Kohat near Peshawar. Later, during a court hearing in Pakistan, it transpired Ansari is in the custody of Pakistani intelligence agencies.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in 2014 that “generally treated as enemy, these prisoners aroused no sympathy from either the prison authorities or their fellow prisoners.”

Indian deaths in Pakistan jails

India said last year it sought a ‘thorough investigation’ into the deaths of 13 Indians who died in Pakistani jails in the previous three-and-a-half years.

Kirpal was in a Pakistani jail for over 24 years on spying charges. He had allegedly crossed over to Pakistan through the Wagah border in 1992 and was arrested. He was subsequently sentenced to death in a serial bomb blasts case at Faisalabad in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Kirpal’s nephew Ashwani Kumar suspects Kirpal was assaulted in Pakistani custody. “There are injury marks on the face and blood clots in the nose. We are certain that he was murdered by fellow prisoners in the jail. He was also a witness to another Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh’s murder in the jail and the Pakistan authorities feared that after Kirpal’s release, they will be exposed.” Pakistan said Kirpal died of a heart attack.

The death brought back memories of Sarabjit’s killing.

Sarabjit was arrested in Pakistan in 1991 and sentenced to death for spying and carrying out bomb blasts. His family said he was an innocent farmer who was arrested after wandering over the border.

He died after being hospitalised with a head injury in early 2013 as two fellow prisoners attacked him in jail in Lahore. Pakistan said he went into coma following injuries sustained during a “scuffle”.

Pakistani prisoners in India

Of the Pakistani nationals facing trial or undergoing sentence on the charges of spying in India, many have served their sentence but can’t be deported as Pakistan refuses to accept them as its citizens.

Sajeed Muneer, for instance, spent about 12 years in Indian jail for espionage before being released on June 5, 2016. Pakistan does not acknowledge him as its national and hasn’t responded to India’s request to take him back. For the past 10 months, Bhopal police are taking care of him at a safe location.

Masood Akhtar, another Pakistani national accused of being an ISI agent, was sentenced to 14 years of rigorous imprisonment in 2003. He was due for release but is still lodged in Ambala central jail. Jail officials say till the time they don’t get communication for his deportation from the ministry of foreign affairs, he will not be released.

With inputs from agencies

First Published: Nov 02, 2017 14:20 IST