Release prisoners on completion of jail term, decriminalise inadvertent border crossings, especially for fisherfolk and minors

Over 30 organisations have endorsed this Joint Statement initiated and coordinated by Sapan

Kalu Vira, a fisherman from India incarcerated in Pakistan died at a hospital in Karachi on 6 July 2022. He had completed his jail term in December 2021, and his nationality had been verified. 

After his passing, it took over 10 days for the Pakistan authorities to inform the Indian High Commission about the death. 

As of 31 July, Kalu Vira’s mortal remains are yet to be repatriated. Meanwhile his family members came to learn of the tragedy through other means and are desperately awaiting the return of his mortal remains.

This is not the first time a fisherman has died while incarcerated on ‘the other side’. It typically takes well over a month to repatriate mortal remains of an Indian or a Pakistani who dies while incarcerated in the other country. The repatriation is carried out through Wagah border although most such incarcerations are in the southern coastal areas.

Nano Ram, another Indian fisherman, completed his jail sentence in Pakistan on 16 January 2019. He died at a cardiovascular hospital in Karachi on 3 February 2022. His remains were repatriated on 4 April 2022. 

Amir Hamza, a Bengali migrant fisherman from Karachi arrested by the Indian Coast Guards in 2017 died of Covid-19 in India in June 2021. It took the authorities three months to repatriate his body to Pakistan. He, too, had completed his prison sentence but was kept languishing in custody.

When fisherfolk cross the unmarked maritime borders in the region, lengthy incarceration is just one of the risks they face. Currently, Pakistan holds 632 Indian fishermen in Landhi Jail, Karachi, while India holds 95 Pakistani fishermen in prisons in Gujarat. All were arrested for inadvertently crossing the maritime boundary.

Even after serving their jail sentences, they end up remaining in prison. Had Kalu, Manu and Hamza been repatriated promptly after having completed their sentences they might have been alive today.

We note that Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi fisherfolk arrested by India and vice versa also face similar issues. 

In some cases, border patrol personnel on the other side have shot dead fisherfolk caught transgressing the unmarked maritime border. This happens between Pakistan and India, and also between Bangladesh and India.

Additionally, several minors who inadvertently crossed the border across the Line of Control in the disputed area of Kashmir, are lodged in reformatory centres on the other side. In some cases, they are repatriated within days, once their identities are verified and contact is made with families across the border.

Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi fisherfolk arrested by India and vice versa also face similar issues. In the case of Sri Lanka and India, there are generally fairly fast repatriations, sometimes within weeks of arrest, including boats being returned. 

We call on the governments of the region to immediately take following steps:

  1. Release and repatriate prisoners of each other’s country as soon as they have completed their prison sentences, particularly aged prisoners, women prisoners and civilian prisoners with minor offences. Promptly return any fishing boats that are confiscated.
  2. Revive the India-Pakistan Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners and allow medical teams of the other country to periodically visit and conduct inspections. Institute similar bilateral committees between India-Sri Lanka, and India-Bangladesh. 
  3. Allow consular access to cross-border prisoners and communication between them and their relatives, including the option of online communication. 
  4. Allow those who are jailed in or who die in Sindh and Gujarat to be repatriated through the sea route or Khokhrapar border rather than having to travel 1000 km up-country to Wagah-Atari border, and down again to their homes.
  5. Decriminialise inadvertent border crossings. 

All countries of the region must institute measures to ameliorate the plight of the incarcerated in their custody, particularly cross-border prisoners. This will also help build confidence and trust between the two countries and improve overall neighbourly relations in the Southasian region.

Endorsed:

  1. Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum
  2. National Fishworkers Forum, India
  3. National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, Sri Lanka
  4. Aaghaz-e-Dosti
  5. Aman Ki Asha
  6. Centre for Social Justice – Pakistan
  7. Confederation of Voluntary Associations, COVA – India
  8. Haqooq Khalq Party Pakistan
  9. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
  10. National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) – India
  11. Nijera Kori – Bangladesh
  12. Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee
  13. People’s  Watch – India 
  14. People for Peace and Change – India, Pakistan
  15. Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, PIPFPD
  16. Peace and Development Organisation – Pakistan
  17. Pakistan Institute of Labour and Education Research, PILER
  18. People’s Union For Civil Liberties, India
  19. Southasia Peace Action Network
  20. South Asia Partnership-Pakistan 
  21. South Asia Citizens Web
  22. Tehrik-e-Niswan, Pakistan
  23. Boston South Asian Coalition
  24. Sangat – Southasia
  25. Samaaj
  26. American Alliance of Physicians for Peace in South Asia
  27. International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India 
  28. Uks Research Centre – Pakistan
  29. Anna’s Tuin en Ruigte, Amsterdam
  30. Bebaak Collective – India
  31. Driksakshi – India

5 Comments

  1. Credit must be given to Sapan team for repatriation of to their respective countries when their prison term expires. The recommendations in this regard are also fully supported. When minors cross borders it becomes an issue between two countries. They must be sent back immediately without incarcerating them into overcrowded jails
    with hard core criminals.

    Let us appreciate the services of Ms. Beena Sarwar for managing all these tasks so nicely with a missionery zeal
    voluntarily. I salute her courage and jazba!!

    Like

  2. It is a pity that poor uneducated fisherman when they violate sea limit of their country are incarcerated into jails where some of them die after expiry of their prison time. Main issue is it is very very difficult for an uneducated
    ‘machi/machera’/fisherman to determine/measure the territorial water area/limit but he is imprisoned and die there. Even his dead body takes weeks to send back to his respective country. Really callous and barbaric — just fine macheras and free them. Poor minor children are also not spared. How is it possible to block thousands miles borders with barricades. Pity on poor fishermen and minors for the sake of God. I give credit to Ms. Beena again
    for her meritorious services in this regard!!

    Like

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