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Pakistan to release 54 Indian fishermen

An official of the Interior Ministry says the government has decided to release 54 more Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture and their documents are being prepared.
By Muhammad Najeeb | IANS, Islamabad
UPDATED ON JUN 10, 2008 03:14 PM IST

Islamabad has decided to release 54 Indian fishermen even as the Indian chapter of a joint judicial committee on prisoners begins its visit to Pakistan on Tuesday to meet Indians housed in jails across the country and discuss modalities for their early release.

"The government has decided to release 54 more fishermen as a goodwill gesture and their documents are being prepared," an official of the Interior Ministry told IANS.

Last month, 97 Indian prisoners were released after talks between India's external affairs minister and his Pakistani counterpart.

The release of the 54 fishermen comes when the Indian side of the Pakistan-India Judicial Committee on prisoners will be going through the lists of prisoners in Pakistan to identify the Indian nationals.

The Indian delegation comprising Justice (retd) Nagendra Rai, Justice (retd) Amarjeet Choudhary, Justice (retd) AS Gill and Justice (retd) MA Khan is expected to visit jails in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi to check on Indian prisoners there.

This is the first visit to Pakistan of the joint committee, which was formed in January 2007 to recommend steps for the humane treatment and expeditious release of prisoners languishing in jails of the two countries.

The delegation will also meet the committee's Pakistan chapter to discuss modalities for the early release of prisoners in both the countries and to work out dates for their visit to India to identify Pakistani nationals there.

The Pakistan chapter comprises Justice (retd) Abdul Qadeer Chaudhary, Justice (retd) Fazal Karim, Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Justice (retd) Mian Muhammad Ajmal.

The retired judges will also interact with other stakeholders and leaders in Pakistan to discuss the issue, especially its humanitarian aspect.

The decision to organise visits by committee members to jails in the two countries was taken during its first joint meeting held in New Delhi Feb 26. It was also decided that the two neighbours would exchange consolidated lists with the details of prisoners held in each other's jails and their present status.

Two Indian prisoners - Sarbjeet Singh and Karpal Singh - have been sentenced to death by Pakistan courts and there are about 400 others who have been sentenced for overstaying, illegally entering into Pakistan and fishermen straying into Pakistani waters, the interior ministry said.

The Indian prisoners include a woman, Teena Peka, who was arrested and sentenced for one year in 1996, but is still in jail, a ministry official said requesting anonymity.

The official added that the foreign ministry had requested them to complete all details of Indian prisoners in Pakistan jails as soon as possible.

A similar list was shared with Indian authorities earlier this year but Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi wants an updated list before his visit to India later this month, he added.

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