Pakistan may free 34 Indian prisoners this week

Islamabad: Pakistan is expected to release 34 Indian prisoners, including a fisherman suffering from cancer, this week as part of steps to normalise relations between the two countries.

The prisoners, including 26 fishermen and eight others arrested on charges like illegally crossing the border, are expected to be repatriated via the Wagah border on April 13, Indian and Pakistani officials said on Wednesday.

However, leading Pakistani rights activist Ansar Burney has offered to immediately airlift fisherman Samant Lakshman Bambhaniya, who is suffering from cancer of the leg. "I had taken up Bambhaniya`s case with the President and Prime Minister and would like to see that he gets home as quickly as possible," Burney told PTI.

Bambhaniya belongs to Dandi village in Gujarat and is currently being held at a jail in Karachi, Burney said. "Fishermen of both countries are frequently arrested because some times while fishing, they unintentionally enter each other`s territory and get caught," he said. "These fishermen have to suffer for so many years in the jails of Pakistan or India. They are illiterate and innocent," Burney added.

India and Pakistan have released scores of prisoners, a majority of them fishermen, since they resumed their peace process last year after a gap of over two years in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The two sides are working on an arrangement for the speedy repatriation of fishermen detained for inadvertently crossing the maritime boundary.

Officials dismissed reports that a special order had been issued by Pakistani authorities for the release of Bambhaniya and said he was being freed as part of the batch of 34 prisoners. Indian authorities had been pushing for Bambhaniya`s release for several months because of his medical condition, the officials said.