Detained fisherfolk: Denial of consular access is denial of justice

It is beyond belief that Pakistan has STILL not nominated members to the joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners, which India did in 2018. I have personally sent notes to several members of the ruling party through various contacts. They say they care but there are obviously more important matters to worry about than poor imprisoned fishermen. The Judicial committee, instituted in 2007, has been virtually defunct since the end of 2013. Cross-border prisoners completing their sentences continue to languish in prisons across the border because of lack of consular access. This wouldn’t happen if they were rich and powerful.

Arrested Indian fishermen in Pakistan lockup. File photo. Getty images

PRESS RELEASE:

People’s Forum demands nationality verification and consular access to fishworkers and other prisoners of India and Pakistan; Pakistan must appoint members of the Joint Judicial Committee on prisoners

The tense relations between India and Pakistan severely impact the life and livelihood of the fishing communities in both countries. The depiction of arrested fishermen by the other country gives a sad picture, says a press statement by the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy.

The Forum provides details and analysis that pertain only to the Indian fishermen arrested by Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency (MSA) in Pakistani waters as details about the Pakistani fishermen arrested by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) have not been made available. “However, it can be surmised that the scenario is similar to that of Indian fishermen arrested by Pakistan.”
 
“As of today (13 Feb 2020), Pakistan has 207 Indian fishermen in its custody while India has 99 Pakistani fishermen in its custody. Pakistan has given Consular Access (CA) to Indian High Commission officials in the case of 107 Indian fishermen. Pakistan must provide CA to 100 more, also since most of the Indian fishermen have completed their sentences,” says the statement signed by Jatin Desai, Convener Sub-Committee, Fishers Release issue, PIPFPD India and Vijayan MJ, General Secretary, PIPFPD India.
 
“Shockingly, out of 107, India has confirmed the nationality of only 29 fishermen. Ideally Pakistan should have released them by now. At the same time, India needs to confirm the nationalities of all the arrested fishermen. The delay in confirming nationalities hurt the arrested fishermen and their families, which are waiting for their return. Not confirming nationality even after 2-3 years is inhuman, to say the least.”

The bilateral Agreement on Consular Access signed on 21 May 2008 categorically says, “Each Government shall provide consular access within three months to nationals of one country, under arrest, detention or imprisonment in the other country.” It further says, “Both Governments agree to release and repatriate persons within one month of confirmation of their national status and completion of sentences.”

The cases of Venod Mirji, Suneel Piyaray Lal, Rajo Vinod, Bachi Lal Ram Sehwak, Babu Piyaray Lal and others are particularly shocking. Venod’s sentence ended in 23 May 2017 and he was given CA on August 2017 but his nationality is still not confirmed. Similarly, Suneel, Bachi, Babu, and Rajo’s sentences ended on 21 Feb 2018 but they were not provided CA until December 2018.
 
The fact is both governments are not implementing the agreement in letter and spirit says the statement, noting that experience shows that in most cases both India and Pakistan are not providing consular access within the three months of arrest. Furthermore, they are not releasing and repatriating persons within one month of completion of sentences and confirmation of national status.
 
The Forum demands that:
1)     Both countries implement the agreement of 2008 in letter and spirit and confirm the nationality of their arrested citizen within a period of three months of CA. In a world of information technology, confirming nationality of arrested persons within a period of three months is not difficult.
2)     Pakistan must reciprocate the Indian government in appointing the respective members of the Joint Judicial Committee on prisoners (the mechanism was instituted in 2007 but has been made defunct since the end of 2013).

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