Pakistan releases Indian prisoner, raises hopes for others

April 30th, 2008 - 1:56 pm ICT by admin  

By Zofeen T. Ebrahim
Karachi April 29 (IANS) When 17-year-old Nirendar Uttam steps on his homeland India, he will probably send positive signals for the families of 35 other Indian juveniles and 467 adult fishermen languishing in various Pakistani jails. Uttam, arrested for allegedly fishing in Pakistani waters, has been allowed to return home on “humanitarian grounds”.

“He has been released on humanitarian grounds, for he is very sick and will be accompanied by a doctor as well,” said Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, one of the members of the Pakistan-India joint judicial committee on prisoners.

The teenager will return Thursday morning after the Sindh government withdrew all cases against him, the Daily Times said Wednesday.

“He will be flown home on a PIA flight and will be accompanied by a doctor and officers of the Indian High Commission,” the Daily Times quoted Zahid as saying.

Zahid is also hopeful that with his release, more minors will be let off as a first positive step by the Pakistani authorities.

The teenager was caught while fishing in the Pakistani waters early February. He was found sick in just a week and his condition deteriorated further.

Fishermen from both countries are regularly arrested for straying into each others’ territory.

According to S.K Reddy, counsellor at the Indian High Commission, in Islamabad, 467 Indians are in Pakistan jails and only 18 Pakistani fishermen are in Indian prisons.

Scared that they may face a similar situation that their Indian counterparts faced after the dead body of Pakistani prisoner, Khalid Mahmood was sent, in March, the Pakistani authorities finally allowed counsellor access to the boy, which is mandatory under international conventions.

The judicial committee, formed last year, has recommended that the two countries exchange lists of prisoners languishing in each country’s jails. Other steps include expediting the release of prisoners who have completed their terms and as a very first step exchange of fishermen, caught crossing the international waters is likely to begin with the release of Indian prisoners.

However, Reddy told IANS that he didn’t want to raise his hopes too high.

For the past many days, he and his team have laboriously been poring over the files of fishermen, met all of them and verified their identity.

Most of the fishermen lodged in the prison in Malir, are from Gujrat and adjoining districts along the coastal belt and all have completed their term.

Yet, says the counsellor: “We have not been told when they will be released.”

“It’s not about exchange of prisoners between the two countries. Those who’ve completed their term should not be held,” asserts Reddy.

It is this uncertainty about their release and the fact that their boats will remain impounded by the Pakistan government, that is casting a shadow over what could have been a happy ending to a sordid episode that keeps getting repeated by both governments, completely indifferent to the way the livelihood of these poor people have been squashed thus.

“Each vessel costs between Rs.1 to 1.5 million and most of these small fishermen have bought these boats either on instalments or by taking up heavy loans. Instead of punishing them for six months, which was traditionally the practice, they have locked them up for two years and even taken away their only means of livelihood. No boats means no employment,” says Reddy.

According to him there should be about 346 boats in the dockyard of Karachi “but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they have either been stolen, or sold”.

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