Pakistan has released 151 jailed Indian fishermen and Sri Lanka has ordered the release of all Indian fishermen in its custody in a sign of goodwill ahead of Narendra Modi’s swearing-in as the Indian prime minister. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa are invitees to Modi’s swearing-in Monday.
Pakistan released 59 Indian fishermen from Malir jail in Karachi and 92 from Nara jail in Hyderabad in Sindh province. Sri Lankan authorities could not provied a count for Indian fishermen currently in detention.
Syed Nazir Hussain, superintendent of Malir jail, told PTI that the prisoners were released on written directives from Pakistan’s interior and foreign ministries. “Most prisoners are poor Indian fishermen arrested for trespassing into Pakistani territorial waters,” he said.
The freed fishermen were taken in an air-conditioned bus from Karachi to the Wagah border, where they were to be handed over to Indian authorities.
Justice (retd) Aslam Nasir Zahid, who heads a legal aid NGO, said his NGO provided cash, free goods, clothes, gifts and air-conditioned buses to take them to the Wagah border.
Some of the prisoners told Geo News channel how delighted they were about returning to their families. “We were treated well and not as serious criminals,” one prisoner said.
Last August, Pakistan released 337 Indian prisoners from jails. On Diwali, 15 Indian fishermen were released as a goodwill gesture. According to Indian activists, 229 Indian fishermen and 780 Indian boats are in the custody of Pakistan. These are besides 23 boats seized during the ongoing fishing season.
Around 200 Pakistani fishermen are in Indian jails and India has seized 150 boats for straying into Indian territorial waters, according to compiled figures.
Rajapaksa too had ordered the release of fishermen in March after India abstained from voting on an anti-Sri Lanka motion at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. India was one of the 12 nations that abstained from voting on the resolution, which prescribed an international probe into alleged rights abuses by Lanka on Tamils. India had earlier backed two similar resolutions against Sri Lanka moved by the United States.
Sri Lanka’s relations with India soured during the government led by the Congress. Analysts in Colombo say Rajapaksa appears keen on mending ties with India.