More than 300 Indian fishermen will be released next Wednesday, and allowed to cross into India at Wagah the following day. While the bulk of them are lodged in Karachi’s Malir Jail, 22 are juveniles who are in the city’s Youthful Offenders Industrial School.
A civil society organization run by Nasir Aslam Zahid — one of the Pakistani judges on the India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners — has arranged for air-conditioned coaches to ferry them from Karachi to Lahore, for the crossing at the border.
This is one of the occasions when a large number of prisoners are being released on a single day. Last year, Pakistan released 180 prisoners, including fishermen, on a single day. The prison sentences of most in this group expired in May, and they have been fortunate compared to earlier prisoners who have had to languish in prison for months on end, despite completion of their term.
As per the agreement of the Committee after its visit to Indian jails having Pakistani prisoners in January, consular access must be provided within three months of arrest, and repatriation must take place within a month of confirmation of national status and completion of sentence.
Given that confirmation of nationality is often delayed because the fishermen of both countries invariably have no papers on them when they set out fishing, and stray into one another’s territorial waters as there is no proper maritime boundary, the two countries decided at last month’s Home Secretary talks that in case of delay, they would be transferred to charitable institutions after completion of sentence. Presently, they languish in the very prison where they were imprisoned, adding to their plight.