India,Pak work on mechanism to release fishermen

Islamabad: India and Pakistan have announced that they were working on setting up a mechanism for the release of fishermen who inadvertently cross the maritime boundary between the two countries as part of measures to expedite the release of all prisoners.

In keeping with a decision made at a meeting of the Home and Interior Secretaries in New Delhi last month, India`s Coast Guard and Pakistan`s Maritime Security Agency will work on setting up the mechanism for "release of inadvertent crossers (fishermen) and their boats on the same lines as the inadvertent crossers on land," said a joint statement issued at the conclusion of a visit to Pakistan by Indian members of the Judicial Committee on Prisoners.

The two coastal security agencies will submit their report on this matter to the Home and Interior Secretaries before the next round of talks between the two officials, the statement said late yesterday.

An Indian official familiar with discussions held during the Judicial Committee`s visit told PTI that the two sides were considering a proposal whereby first time offenders would be freed at sea without any lengthy legal procedures.

The Coast Guard and MSA would work out modalities for this proposal, said the official who did not want to be named.

The official further said that top Pakistani officials and leaders who had meet the Indian members of the Judicial Committee had showed a "genuine desire" to ensure the speedy release of all prisoners.

"All the meetings were very good and there was a sense that things are moving in the right direction," the official said.

The Indian members of the Judicial Committee ? retired Justices Nagendra Rai, Amarjeet Chaudhary, A S Gill and M A Khan ? visited jails in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi where Indian nationals are being held.

There were a total of 260 Indian fishermen at the Malir Jail and a juvenile detention centre in Karachi and over 230 other Indian nationals at two prisons in Lahore and Rawalpindi, the Indian official said.

The Judicial Committee was, by and large, satisfied with the condition and treatment of the Indian prisoners.

During the visit, the two sides shared lists of Indian prisoners and fishermen, the joint statement said.

"Consular access was conducted in respect of some of the fishermen and prisoners on the spot. Further it was recommended by the Committee to reconcile the figures of the prisoners and fishermen at the earliest and to allow consular access to the rest of the prisoners and fishermen in the second week of May 2011," the statement said.

The committee suggested that the "nationality verification process should be facilitated."

It further said that prisoners who had completed their jail terms and possessed travel documents should be repatriated "at the earliest".

The panel recommended a humane approach in dealing with fishermen, women and juvenile prisoners, terminally ill prisoners, those suffering from serious illness or physical disability and mentally disabled persons.

The Committee further recommended that all prisoners should be provided legal aid at all stages of their cases by the two governments.

The Committee suggested that the next visit to Indian jails by the four Pakistani members of the panel should be scheduled by the second half of June, subject to confirmation dates through diplomatic channels.