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Pakistan: Trade union & labour leaders speak up in defence of arrested fishermen languishing in Indian Jails

27 December 2016

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Dawn, December 25, 2016

Plight of fishermen highlighted

Shazia Hasan

KARACHI: Plight of fishermen of both Pakistan and India who are often arrested for violating limits of territorial waters of the two countries was highlighted at a press conference jointly addressed by representatives of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), National Labour Council and Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) at the Karachi Press Club on Saturday.

Pakistani fishermen were often arrested by Indian coastguards at the Sir Creek which was a disputed territory between the two countries, said Karamat Ali of the National Labour Council. There was no demarcation in the sea, he said and asked when coastguards of the two countries could not determine from where the limits of their countries began and ended then how they could expect from poor fishermen to know about it.

He said the arrest of fishermen for the violation of territorial limits was in fact violation of their rights.
156 Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian jails for years and in Pakistani jails there are 439 fishermen awaiting release

He said the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was against the arrest of fishermen at sea. He said according to international rules fishermen could be warned when they unintentionally entered the territory of other countries. And if they were arrested the imprisonment should not be more than six months, he added.

He regretted that fishermen of both Pakistan and India languished in jails for years after their arrest.

“Their cases don’t even come to trial for months. Their embassy representative doesn’t even get counsellor access until after fishermen have served their sentences. Then after serving their sentences many are sent to jails until their country recognises them. Some languish there for over a year. Some even die during this time.”

The representatives of Piler and the other organisations pointed out that families of Pakistani fishermen in Indian jails suffer terribly in their absence.

PFF chairman Mohammad Ali Shah said that 27 fishermen from a fishing village in Sujawal were arrested at sea by Indian authorities leaving behind only womenfolk in the village.

“There is no one left to earn a living,” he said and urged the Sindh government to register and provide social security to all fishermen so that at least their families could be taken care of in their absence.

He also brought up the case of Rashid Ibrahim, who was arrested by Indian coastguards in 2014.

“There are some 156 Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian jails for years and in Pakistani jails there are 439 fishermen awaiting release.”

Habibuddin Junaidi, convener of Labour Solidarity Committee, also spoke on the occasion.

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The News, December 25, 2016

India asked to reciprocate Pakistan’s goodwill gesture

Labour leaders and civil society and human rights activists have hailed the Pakistani government’s goodwill gesture to release 439 Indian fishermen on December 25 (today) and January 5.

Addressing a joint press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Saturday, they demanded that the Indian government reciprocate by releasing Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian jails.

Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum Chairman Muhammad Ali Shah, National Labour Council Secretary Karamat Ali, Sindh Labour Solidarity Committee Convener Habibuddin Junaidi and Muttahida Labour Federation’s Jaffar Khan asked the governments of both the countries to devise a mechanism for not arresting fishermen in case of border violation in the open seas.

Recalling the struggle of activists in both the states for the release of fishermen, Shah said that in 1997 the then prime ministers had assured during the Saarc summit that a mechanism would be devised to deport fishermen to their countries if they crossed into their neighbours’ borders.

Ali pointed out that on December 20 the Indian government had arrested 26 Pakistani fishermen and seized their five boats, adding that Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency had arrested 43 Indian fishermen on November 20.

“Currently 156 Pakistani fisher folk are languishing in various Indian jails. Among them are 13 children. Meanwhile, 513 Indian fishermen are incarcerated in Pakistani jails.”

He said the National Fishworkers Forum and the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace & Democracy have assured that they would contact the Indian government for the release of Pakistani fishermen.

“Our friends in India, including senior journalist Jatin Desai, are actively working on it. If Pakistani fishermen are not released, Mr Jatin has assured us that they would approach the Indian Supreme Court.”

The labour leaders also demanded that the Sindh government provide social security facilities to all fishermen, especially those arrested and languishing in Indian jails, adding that the Karachi Fishermen Cooperative Society should contribute for the social security of fishermen.

Shah lamented that 17 of the Pakistani fishermen in Indian jails have been languishing for over 17 years, adding that their counsels require access to them, but the high commissions of both the countries have been underperforming and many fishermen are in jails despite finishing their sentences.

Junaidi said the Sindh government would soon announce a labour policy. “Sindh was the first province of the country to provide fishermen with the right to join trade unions.”

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SEE ALSO

EDITORIAL in DAWN

Fishermen’s plight

[Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2016]

AS the African proverb goes, when two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled. To be more specific, in this case it is the poor fishermen that get netted when Pakistan and India want to flex their muscles. So it was heartening that Pakistan released 220 Indian fishermen from prison in Karachi on Sunday, enabling them to return home and start the new year reunited with their families. The men had spent more than a year behind bars on the charge of trespassing on Pakistani waters. As per a report in this paper yesterday, all of them said their boats had drifted off course while they were asleep and they had been arrested by the coastguard in the middle of the night. For at least one of them, incarceration in Pakistan for the same crime was a repeat experience.

While the India-Pakistan relationship is at present going through a particularly fraught period, thanks largely to unreasoning hostility from the Modi government, the plight of fishermen from both sides being arrested for maritime trespassing is a long-standing, chronic issue. It need not, and should not, be so. This is an indigent community whose detention behind bars causes enormous suffering to their dependents back home. Their incarceration will not compel the other side to change their policies on matters that bedevil their relationship; it in fact serves no purpose other than petty point-scoring. Groups of fishermen, sometimes after having spent years in cross-border prisons, are periodically released from time to time in ‘goodwill gestures’, only for the same exercise to be repeated over and over again. At a recent news conference in Karachi on the issue, speakers highlighted how the arrest and detention of fishermen by maritime security agencies violates international law and contravenes the victims’ legal rights. For example, consular access is granted only after they serve their sentences; some have even died in prison. It is high time India and Pakistan tackled the issue of maritime boundary demarcation.

P.S.

The above articles from he Pakistan media are reproduced here for educationl and non commercial use