CITING THEIR vulnerability to novel coronavirus in “overcrowded” prisons, Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) has demanded that India and Pakistan release each other’s prisoners not facing serious charges and send positive message in times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The family members of arrested fishermen, women and other prisoners languishing in each other’s prisons are deeply concerned for their loved ones. Communication between the families and prisoners does not take place even during normal times… The family members are tense… Prisons in both the countries are overcrowded… It is necessary that both the countries release the prisoners and facilitate their transportation back through the Wagah-Attari border,” the Indian chapter of the PIPFPD urged in its letter to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
PIPFPD is an NGO working for friendly relationship between India and Pakistan. It has chapters in both the countries.
The letter, written on Friday, said, “We appreciate that keeping in mind the overcrowded prisons and the possibility of infection, the Supreme Court and the central and state governments in India as well as government of Pakistan have taken steps to release certain kind of prisoners from its prisons on parole or furlough. Such steps are absolutely necessary to fight this deadly infection. We request that such relief measures be made applicable in the case of prisoners from each other’s countries too.”
Jatin Desai, convenor of Committee on Prisoners Concern of the India chapter of PIPFPD, said that 280 Indians are lodged in Pakistan jails. Of them, 225 are fishermen who were arrested by Pakistan for allegedly violating its territorial waters while fishing in the Arabian Sea and the rest are civilians. Similarly, 366 Pakistani nationals are lodged in Indian jails. Of them, 99 are fishermen and the rest are civilian prisoners.
“Both the countries agree that fishermen of either country usually cross the international maritime boundary line inadvertently while fishing. Since they cross the border inadvertently, it is not a serious offence and, therefore, these fishermen should be released. Civilian prisoners not facing serious charges should also be released,” Desai told The Indian Express, adding the pandemic presented both the countries and opportunity to send, what he called, a positive message.
On April 12, Pakistan Marine Security Agency had apprehended over a dozen Indian fishermen after they allegedly crossed over to the Pakistan side of the notional International Maritime Boundary Line.
However, the PMSA released the fishermen with their boats after intervention by the Indian Coast Guard.