Seen as a peace offering ahead of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India, Pakistan released 150 Indian fishermen imprisoned for violating its territorial waters on Sunday.
According to the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), a nonprofit organisation that advocates for the rights of fishing communities, 92 Indian prisoners were freed from Nara Jail, Hyderabad, and another 58 from Malir Jail, Karachi.
The release coincides with Prime Minister Nawaz’s historic visit to India where he is due to attend the swearing-in ceremony of India’s new leader, Narendra Modi. Barring any last-minute changes, the two leaders are also set to hold bilateral talks on May 27.
Shortly after the release, two air-conditioned buses were arranged to transport the fishermen to Karachi from where they will set off for India through Wagah border.
According to Nara Jail Superintendent Nazeer Shah, the inmates were shifted from Malir Jail to the Nara prison facility on January 13, 2014. They spent around 17 months behind bars after their arrest for crossing Pakistan’s maritime boundaries.
Dinesh, a young fisherman from Gujarat, said that he was arrested some 16 months ago after his ferry entered Pakistani seas.
“Although the police have been good to us, but a jail is a jail. We can’t meet or even talk to our loved ones on phone,” said Dinesh with his emotion running high as he was showered with petals by the local fishermen who arranged a reception outside the prison.
Another freed fisherman, Bheeko, claimed that five of his colleagues are still jailed in Pakistan. “We were 57 fishermen from the same area. Fifty-two have been released. Others are still in Pakistani prions.”
Welcoming the move, PFF Chairperson Mohammed Ali Shah appreciated the Pakistan government’s initiative to release the detainees. Shah expressed hope that the new government in India will reciprocate and free Pakistani fishermen.
There are about 350 Indian fishermen in Pakistani jails, out of which 150 have been released. Similarly, around 200 Pakistani fishermen are in Indian jails. Fishermen from both countries routinely cross into the wrong side of the territorial border in the Arabian Sea and are arrested by the authorities. Most detainees end up behind bars for several years without avail.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2014.