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761 Pakistanis in Indian jails, NA told

February 14, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Feb 14: At least 761 Pakistanis, among them 18 defence personnel, are languishing in Indian jails, according to the official record presented in the National Assembly recently.

“As of January 2011, 761 Pakistanis are in Indian jails – 698 of them are civilians, 45 fishermen and 18 defence personnel,” says the record submitted by the foreign affairs division.

Charges against civilian prisoners range from illegal and inadvertent border crossings to visa violations such as overstay and travel to cities not mentioned in the permit. The fishermen have been arrested by Indian authorities on allegations of illegal fishing in their waters.

However, the document doesn't say anything about the nature of prisoners from the defence services and their sentences.

The paper said the government regularly raised the issue of their repatriation. This was a humanitarian issue and remained a priority for the foreign affairs ministry, it said.

The ministry said that as soon as any information was received about a Pakistani prisoner in an Indian jail, the country's high commission in New Delhi immediately approached the Indian authorities for consular access. Once consular access is provided to the Pakistani national by the Indian authorities, a request is made to the interior ministry to confirm the nationality of the prisoner.

On confirmation of the national status, the high commission issues travel documents and approaches Indian authorities for an early release and repatriation of the prisoner.

However, the document said, Indian authorities took their time to respond and repatriate a Pakistani prisoner.

A judicial committee on prisoners has been set up to ensure their humane treatment and expeditious release.

The committee held its preliminary meeting in February 2008 and visited Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails in June and Pakistani prisoners in India in August the same year to ensure expeditious release of those who had completed their sentences.

Both countries signed an agreement on consular access on May 21, 2008, during a visit to Islamabad by the Indian external affairs minister.

Release of prisoners on both sides of the border was taking place at fairly regular intervals before the Mumbai terror attacks. The issue was put on the back burner after the attacks.

With the two governments recently agreeing to revive bilateral talks suspended for over two years, there are hopes that the issue of release of the prisoners would also be addressed in coming months.