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24 Indians set free from Pak jail return home

Lahore: Twenty-four Indians, including two women, languishing in Pakistani jails, crossed into their homeland from the Wagah border on Friday, as an Indo-Pak judicial panel demanded "fast-track release of each others fishermen" and save them from becoming "victims of maltreatment".

The Pakistani government in a "goodwill gesture" yesterday announced the release of 14 fishermen who had spent nearly 15 months behind bars in Karachi`s Malir Jail.

However, the authorities today decided to free another 10, including two women.

"We have handed over 24 Indian prisoners, including two women, to the Border Security Force today," Pakistan Rangers spokesman Mahboob Hussain told PTI.

The Indian authorities just before the foreign ministers level talks in New Delhi this week released 87 Pakistani fishermen from different Indian jails.

Most Indian fishermen released today are aged between 25 and 30 years. They hail from Junagadh and other areas of the Gujarat state.

They had been arrested eight months back for crossing the international maritime border and entering Pakistani waters in the Arabian Sea.

Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, chairman Sindh government committee for welfare of prisoners, told reporters that both Pakistan and India should ensure a "fast-track release of each others fishermen" and save them from becoming victims of maltreatment.

Justice Zahid, who is also a member of the India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners, said that the eight-member committee had repeatedly recommended by consensus to the two governments to release all fishermen either already tried or under trial for their alleged violation of sea borders.

"It does not make sense to arrest and prosecute the fishermen for their unintentional faults at sea and delay their return to their country on one pretext or the other," he said.

The maritime security agencies of the two countries should evolve a certain mechanism to warn the fishermen found near the border.

Justice Zahid was of the opinion that the governments of the two neighbouring countries could also constitute a joint committee to examine the cases of sea border violations, instead of registering cases under the foreign act against the fishermen, who strayed into the other country?s territory, and putting them in jails for a long time unnecessarily.

Apart from the jail terms the fishermen had to undergo, there was a question of return of fishing boats often captured by the two countries back to their owners, he said.

"About 600 big and small boats of the two countries are undergoing destruction, because there is no arrangement or agreed ways for their transfer to the respective owners on both side of the borders," Justice Zahid said.

Indian authorities had released 87 Pakistani fishermen who were captured between November 2010 and January 2011 for illegally entering Indian waters in the Arabian Sea.

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