Various civil society organisations in Pakistan called on the governments of both India and Pakistan on Friday to immediately release all detained fishermen and solve the long-standing border disputes, including Sir Creek.
Chairman Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum Muhammad Ali Shah, Senior Advocate Supreme Court Syed Iqbal Haider, Chief of Legal Aid Committee Justice (retired) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Joint Director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research Zulfiqar Shah addressed the audience at Karachi Press Club.
Four women relatives of five fishermen in Indian jails were also present at the press conference and narrated the problems they have been facing since their breadwinners are absent.
They demanded the foreign secretaries of both India and Pakistan, currently meeting in Islamabad, to include the release of detained fishermen and the resolution of Sir Creek issue on their agenda.
“The governments should issue special identity cards to each other’s fishermen to fish in joint areas, the delegation demanded, “Both the countries should stop this practice of releasing each other’s fishermen for political mileage.”
Some visible demarcation signs must be placed at the disputed creeks so that fishermen do not cross the borders accidentally, they added.
Pakistan’s coast is spread over 1,050 kilometres, out of which a 350-km-long coastal stretch is located in Sindh. Around 17 major creeks are located at the coast of Sindh and they are ideal spots for fishing. One of the creeks is the disputed Sir Creek. Fishermen often enter into Sir Creek and a nearby Kajar Creek but the navies of both countries arrest them on charges of border crossing, even though both countries have placed demarcation. The fishermen defend their position by saying that these demarcations are hardly visible on the water.
After Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, the process of releasing fishermen was stopped, which was later resumed but it is still slow. There are around 125 Pakistani fishermen in Indian jails, they informed, adding that nine of these were sentenced to 13 years in prison. They have served 15 years so far but are still being held by the Indian authorities.
Similarly, 576 Indian fishermen are also languishing in Pakistani jails on similar charges.
Recently, a few Indian civil society members filed petitions in the Indian Supreme Court for the release of those fishermen who have completed their sentence so 19 Pakistanis were released. In return, Pakistan also freed 17 Indian fishermen.
Civil societies in Pakistan have also decided to file a petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan to release all Indian fishermen in jails. “We think that the arrest of innocent fishermen is violation of international marine laws and human rights conventions,” the speakers insisted.
The members appreciated the efforts of the government when they released an Indian boy, who crossed the border by mistake.
Additional input by PPI
Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2010.