Returning to work in Saudi impossible due to strained relations with Iran

Iranian authorities have ordered the release of 19 Indian fishermen – 16 from Tamil Nadu and three from Kerala – from prison, according to Mr. Shamsudheen Chettippadi, a social activist with the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre in Jubail in Saudi Arabia. The fishermen have been in jail in Iran since December last.

“The Iranian authorities have ordered their release and cleared all documents for their return to India. They will fly back on September 17,” Mr. Chettippadi, who has taken up the cause of the fishermen, told The Hindu over phone from Jubail. He said the Iranian government would make an official declaration about their release on Monday. When contacted, Naresh Chaturvedi, First Secretary in the Indian Embassy in Tehran, however, said the matter was still under process. “Let us wait till Monday,” he told this newspaper over phone.

Mr. Chettippadi helped the Embassy officials in Tehran with providing copies of the passports of all the 19 fishermen at the request of Mr. Chaturvedi on September 4. The Embassy officials presented the passport copies to the Iranian authorities. The verification of two passports issued from Tiruchi was pending, he said, adding that he had requested the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Director on Wednesday to help to speed up the verification process.

He said Mr. Chaturvedi, accompanied by Nizar Kochery, an advocate from Qatar, who was on another mission to Iran, met the 19 fishermen in a prison in Tehran during the first week of September. All the fishermen are keeping good health, he said quoting Mr. Chaturvedi.

Mr. Chettippadi had requested the Indian Embassies in Tehran and Riyadh to arrange for the return of the fishermen to Saudi Arabia so that they could continue their work without losing their visas. The Saudi sponsors had even agreed to bear the cost, but their return to Saudi Arabia would not be possible due to the strained relations between the two countries.

The fishermen would lose their visas when they were deported to India, he said. They have to apply afresh and it would be difficult for the Saudi sponsors to get them new visas, he added. The 19 Indian fishermen who had gone to Saudi Arabia on contract fishing were arrested on December 16, 2012 for crossing the maritime border after setting out for fishing from the Saudi port city of Jubail. An Iranian court had sentenced them to six months imprisonment and imposed a fine of 5,750 US dollars on each of them.

As the fishermen could not be released pending payment of penalty, Mr. Chettippadi said Tamil Nadu Fisheries Secretary S. Vijayakumar called him over phone on July 25 and offered to pay the penalty in respect of 16 fishermen. Similarly, the Kerala government offered to pay the penalty on behalf of three fishermen, he said.

More In: Tamil Nadu | National