A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Friday directed the Union Home Ministry to expedite steps to deport 14 Pakistani fishermen detained in jail despite their acquittal in a case relating to illegally entering Indian waters.

The Bench comprising Justice Pius C.Kuriakose and Justice P.D. Rajan issued the directive on a habeas corpus petition filed by Joseph Varghese of Cherthala, a seafood exporter.

Four Iranian fishermen incarcerated in the Central Prison, Thiruvananthapuram, were released on a High Court directive and accommodated in a lodge in Kochi city. The court was told that they would be sent home after the deportation proceedings were over.

Fourteen Pakistani nationals and the Iranian fishermen on board the fishing vessel Al Javedi were detained by the Indian Navy in December 2010 while they were fishing in the international waters.

The court was also told that the Iranians were put in a lodge under the constant surveillance of the city police commissioner. The court directed the release of Iranians as their travel documents were ready.

The court also directed that a proper place for the accommodation of the Pakistanis be identified and report to the court.

The petitioner said their fishing boat was sailing through Arabian Sea due to threat of Somalian pirates when they were taken into custody. They were later taken to Lakshadweep and handed over to the police.

The Kavarathi police registered cases against 18 fishermen under the provisions of the Passport Act and the Foreigners Act and the Maritime Zone of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act.

A juvenile on the board had been deported. As the Kavarathi police could not unearth any incriminating materials against the accused, they filed a final report before the Ernakulam Judicial First Class Magistrate-I dropping charges under the Passport Act and Foreigners Act but charge sheeting them under the Maritime Zone of India Act.

In the meantime, the Centre had informed the court that charges against the four Iranian nationals had been dropped. Therefore, the court acquitted them. The court later acquitted all the Pakistanis as well as there was no evidence against them.

The accused were taken back to the Central Prison, Thiruvananthapuram, from the court to complete the formalities for their release. However, they had been behind bars ever since. The detention of the accused despite acquittal by the court amounts to illegal detention.

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