Karachi: Sixty-year-old Hajra’s hope for the release of her eighteen year old son, Rasheed Malay, who held in an Indian jail for the past three years, has been rekindled.

Hajra hopes that her son will be released soon, because Pakistan released 439 Indian fishermen on December 25 and another 219 fishermen on January 5.

“Rasheed was captured from the Arabian Sea along with his fishing boat by the Indian Coast Guard in 2014,” said Hajra, Rasheed’s mother.

“I have lost hope of my son’s early release amidst soaring tension between India and Pakistan on the Line of Control (LOC) after the terrorist attack in Uri, Kashmir in India,” she lamented. Terrorists attacked military camp at Uri on September 18, 2016. The attack left 18 soldiers dead and 19 injured.

On Sunday, December 25th, 2016, and January 5th, 2017 Volunteers of Edhi foundation and Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum (PFF) went to see off the 439 Indian fishermen released from Malir Landhee Jail, Karachi.

“Edhi foundation donated 500 rupees in cash along with clothes and breakfast to each fisherman,” said Faisal Edhi, Patron-e-Chief of Edhi Foundation. Edhi said that the foundation also covered their travel expenses to Wagah Border.

According to the authorities at Malir Landhee Jail Karachi, 439 Indian fishermen have been released beyond the directives given by the Federal Government of Pakistan.

“The fishermen were handed over to Indian authorities at Wagah Border, straddling the line between Pakistan and India, 29 km from the town of Lahore on the Pakistani side and 27 km from Amritsar in India,” said Edhi.

Muhammad Ali Shah, Chairman of PFF, is hopeful of a similar response from the Indian Government. He is optimistic that they will release Pakistani fishermen in return.

“These fishermen are innocent, they had no malicious intent, their crime was fishing which serves as their livelihood,” he said.

“Maritime Security Agency (MSA) of Pakistan is responsible for the arrest of Indian fishermen when they reportedly enter Pakistani waters while in India, the Coast Guard, Border Security Force (BSF), Customs and Indian Navy do the same to Pakistani fishermen,” said Muhammad Ali Shah.

“Release of detainees was continued intermittently by India and Pakistan (Indo-Pak), but it was halted due to the Uri terrorist attack. It is good news for the miserable families eagerly awaiting the release of these detainees’, that the process has been restored shortly,” Shah added. He said that 150 Pakistani fishermen are being detained in India along with 300 fishing boats.

According to the statics of the PFF, 150 Pakistani fishermen are detained in India and 87 Indian fishermen in Pakistan including 66 Indian fishermen who were arrested on the 27th of December 2016 by the MSA.

Shah said that there has been no such agreement between Pakistan and India to release people who cross the border unintentionally, nor is there any visible sign of a border in the sea to guide these fishermen.

“Both countries trail fishermen under illegal border entry, anti drug, passport and smuggling act. The arrest of fishermen has been going on since since the creation of Pakistan in 1947,” he added.

“Indo-Pak signed a bilateral agreement in 2008 to share the list of detainees, agreed for counsel access,” Shah noted. Both countries share list of detainees biannually on the 1st of January and the 1st of July annually.

Pakistan High Commission shared a list of detainees on the 1st of July 2016 that said that 504 Indian nationals were detained in Pakistan including 460 fishermen and 460 Pakistanis were detained in India, including 150 fishermen.

In response to Pakistan’s list of detainees, Indian authorities recognized only 271 out of 460 detainees; meanwhile 189 persons are still missing.

Recently, Ansar Burney Trust International filed a petition in Sindh High Court for the recovery of 189 missing persons of Pakistan in India. Ansar Burney is a well-known Human rights activist of Pakistan. A number of Pakistani prisoners have been released from various countries due to the efforts of Ansar Burney Trust. The Trust also provides free legal services.

Muhammad Ali Shah said that 65 Pakistani fishermen have been missing since 1992. “No information regarding their whereabouts has come forth so far,” he added.

“Indian authorities have denied their existence in jail as well,” he said.

Advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, told Senate on the 29th of July, 2016, that 450 Pakistani fishermen have been arrested by the Indian authorities over the past five years. They were arrested for unauthorized presence in Indian waters.

Human Rights Activist and General Secretary of Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy, Jatan Lal Desai, said that the arrest of the fishermen remains a serious issue between the two nations.

Desai said that the fishermen have no other intention except to fish. “Fishing is the livelihood for their families,” Desai said, adding “Exterior ministers of both countries agreed to constitute a judicial committee in September, 2008 in Islamabad which included eight retired Judges, four from each country.”

Desai said that the Judicial Committee was authorized for consular access so as to collect information on the detainees and establish their citizenship, which is inactive in these days and demanded its restoration.

He also noted that recently, the Indian Government announced the installation of GPS in fishing boats and marking of the maritime boundary by floating poles and lights to warn fishermen not to go beyond them.

He said that the detained fishermen who have completed their sentence face a national status confirmation issue. Rasheed Malah is in Indian jail, facing a similar problem. “Pakistani authorities have not confirmed his nationality yet,” Desai said.

“Rasheed was sentenced three months imprisonment by the Indian trail court under illegal border entry act,” says Kamal shah spokesperson of PFF.

“He was arrested in 2014, while crossed the Sea border 200 nautical miles away from the commercial city of Karachi,” he said.

Rasheed was 15 years old in 2014 upon his arrest and hence underage for proper documentation like Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC). “Recently, the Police has submitted a report regarding his national status, this report confirmed his nationality,” he said.

PFF held a series of protests against the detention of fishermen and launched street protest and hunger strike in Karachi.

Asian Human Rights Watch report 2010, says regarding the arrest of fishermen, “Punishment for crossing another country’s waters by fishing boats may be imprisonment for a few months but due to the hostility between Indo-Pak, the fishermen languish for years in detention centers even after completing their imprisonment term.”

The report further stated that due to the absence of any such demarcation on the sea border, fishermen of both nationalities end up crossing their designated coordinates and enter the other country’s administered zone, facing arrests and confiscation of their boats.

The report noted “Sir Creek” as one of the disputed points, and a hotspot for the arrest of fishermen. Chairman PFF said that there are 17 Creeks in the Arabian Sea, ‘Sir Creek’ is a disputed point among Indo-Pak. “The fishermen are mostly arrested from that particular point,” he said

Desai said that both countries should adopt a ‘no arrest policy’ and sign an agreement to declare the Arabian Sea as a ‘free fishing zone.’ He further added that instead of arresting the fishermen, authorities of both countries should just direct them back to their homeland and point out the violation of the sea border.

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