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Indian/Pakistani fishermen caught on a political hook

Thu, Aug 2, 2012

Indian fishermen waiting after release from jail in Pakistan to board buses to India. Photo: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

“The number will never come to zero and in a few months you will see as many captive fishermen, maybe even more to fill the prison barracks,” says Mohammad Ali Shah of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), following the release of more than 300 Indian fishermen from Pakistani jails.

Hundreds of Indian fishermen who go out into the Arabian Sea have been arrested by Pakistani authorities over the recent years, just as Pakistani fishermen are arrested by Indian authorities.

“Their release depends on the ebb and flow of political tension between the two countries, not on whether they have completed their term,” Shah says. “It’s just a game for our rulers in which these fishermen are mere pawns.”

Of the 311 Indian prisoners freed last week, 20 were juveniles.

Shah says such release is often reciprocal, and he expects some 20 to 30 Pakistani fishermen of an estimated 130 in India to be released soon.

The PFF, a non-governmental organization working for the rights of the local fishing community, says the penalty for trespassing is six months imprisonment, but they are rarely released within that period, and languish in jail for years.

Till the late 1980s, fishermen who were captured were always released, and the boats handed over to the coast guards. “They were repaired and returned,” says Shah.

The recent release has not ended the problem. “There are 132 Indian fishermen who are still with us,” says Superintendent Shah. “It takes time to get their nationality verified. Their names and addresses are sent to the Indian High Commission and they confirm the person is an Indian citizen before he can be released.

The maritime boundary between India and Pakistan remains unresolved nearly 65 years after the partition of the Indian sub-continent.

StreetWise magazine is proud to provide WorldWise content republished by the International Network of Street Papers’ independent Street News Service.
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Zofeen Ebrahim, International Press Service

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