Pakistan has decided to release 600 Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture, on the occasion of Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in the Indian city of Goa. The released prisoners had been detained for allegedly violating maritime boundaries between the two countries.
According to reports, the first batch of 200 fishermen is likely to be released on May 12, while the remaining 400 are expected to be released on May 14. The move is seen as a positive development in reducing tension between the two neighboring countries in South Asia, which have a long-standing history of rivalry and border disputes.
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However, there is no clear and comprehensive system or policy regarding the timely release of foreign prisoners in both countries, which has led to many prisoners serving sentences even after completing them. At present, 705 Indian citizens are imprisoned in Pakistani jails, of which 654 are fishermen. Similarly, a total of 434 Pakistanis are in Indian custody, of which 95 are said to be fishermen.
The campaign for the release of the imprisoned fishermen was launched by the Chairperson of the National Commission for Human Rights (NHCR) Rabia Javeri Agha on May 1, highlighting the plight of these fishermen. NHCR also referred to national and international agreements during its campaign and demanded that the two countries set a schedule for negotiations for the release of these migrants.
Human rights organizations of both countries have repeatedly demanded a ‘no-arrest’ policy for fishermen from the governments. The release of these fishermen is expected to reduce the burden on the already overcrowded prisons in both countries and will provide some relief to the families of the prisoners.
The released fishermen will be handed over to the Indian authorities at the Wagah border. The Edhi Foundation will transport the released 200 imprisoned fishermen to Lahore by road, and the Sindh government will provide 5,000 rupees, food items, and gifts to every Indian fisherman.
The move is being widely appreciated by human rights organizations, which hope that both countries will work towards a permanent solution to the issue of fishermen’s detention in the future.