As many as 28 Indian civilians are still languishing in the jails of Pakistan despite having completed their prison terms as India has been unable to confirm their nationality. Ten other Indians, whose Indian nationality has been confirmed, also continue to be in the jails of Pakistan, according to an RTI reply received by peace activist Jatin Desai from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.
In response to an an application filed by Desai under the RTI (Right to Information) Act, the Indian High Commission in Islamabad stated consular access had been granted at various times between 2008 and 2018 to 45 Indian civil prisoners lodged in Pakistan’s jails. Out of them, 38 have completed their varying prison sentences for violating Pakistani laws. But none of them has been repatriated to India till date as the Indian government is in the process of confirming nationality of 28 of them, including five women. The remaining 10 are still in the custody of Pakistan despite their prison terms ending between 2014 and 2018 and their Indian nationality having been confirmed by the Indian government.
Out of the rest seven, whose jail sentence have not been completed, the Indian government has confirmed the nationality of five and is in the process of completing the verification of two others. Of these two, one is an undertrial while the other’s prison term is to get over in 2021. Thus, in all, verification of nationality of 30 is pending with the Indian government while the remaining 15 have been confirmed to be Indian nationals.
Among the 10 prisoners who have completed their jail terms and whose Indian nationality has also been ascertained is 53-year-old cattlherder Mohammad Ismail Samma of Nana Dinara, a border village of Kutch district. The Indian Express had first reported in January 2018 that Samma, who had gone missing from a village on the India-Pakistan border in 2008, was found in a Pakistan jail. While the Indian government had information about Samma being in Pakistan custody since 2014, his family came to know about it in 2017 after being informed by a fellow Kutch resident who was also arraigned in Pakistan but was repatriated in October, 2017. When The Indian Express had reported Samma’s case, the Indian authorities had stated that his nationality verification was pending. However, the latest RTI reply reveals that Samma’s Indian nationality has been confirmed. Samma’s prison term had ended in October 2016.
Likewise is the case of Babli Bhai Yograj, he completed his jail term in May 2014 and his Indian nationality has been also verified. Records show he had been granted consular access in 2015.
Among the 28 prisoners who have served their jail terms but are waiting to be sent back home as their nationality has not been confirmed yet by India is a hearing and speech impaired man. His prison term had ended in 2002.
“The list of 28 civilian prisoners who are waiting to return home after serving their prison terms in Pakistan also includes five women. Two of these women completed their prison terms in 2007, while one more completed her time in jail in 2009. The remaining two were meant to be free from 2011 and 2014, respectively ,after they completed their sentences but have been unable to come back home as their nationality verification is pending. Authorities of both the countries must show sensitivity on this issue,” Desai, the Mumbai-based journalist-activist, told The Indian Express.
“We are a superpower in some sense then why does it take so long even to ascertain if a person is an Indian citizen or not? We can understand difficulties about the hearing and speech impaired person, but then you have to think out of the box. For example, Cheby S, who is one of the civilians whose prison term ended in 2015 is somewhat not mentally sharp and he says that he belongs to Buxar village. There is a district called Buxar in Bihar as well as a village of the same name in Uttar Pradesh. The government can think of publishing photographs of such individuals to help establish their identity and complete verification of their nationality,” Desai, who has served as the general secretary of the Indian chapter of Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), added.