India and Pakistan on Sunday exchanged the lists of civilian prisoners and fishermen lodged in each other’s jails. The list was exchanged through diplomatic channels simultaneously at New Delhi and Islamabad.
As per the Ministry of external affairs, Pakistan has shared with India a list of 53 civilian prisoners and 418 fishermen in its custody, who are or believed to be of Indian origin. They also confirmed that India had urged Pakistan to expedite the release of nine Indian civilian prisoners and 229 Indian fishermen who have completed their sentences and whose nationality has been confirmed. The MEA also confirmed conveying to Pakistan the needs for early release and repatriation of civilian prisoners, missing Indian defence personnel and fishermen along with their boats.
The lists were exchanged under the Consular Access Agreement between Pakistan and India signed on May 21, 2008. Under the agreement, both countries are required to exchange lists of their nationals in each other’s custody twice a year, on January 1 and July 1. While Pakistan handed over a list of 471 Indian prisoners lodged in Pakistani jails, India handed over a list of 357 Pak nationals.
Though the MEA did not mention names, Indian nationals in Pakistani jails included Kulbhushan Jadhav and Hamid Nehal Ansari also.
Jadhav was arrested in March 2016 on charges of espionage and a Pakistani military court has handed him the death penalty. Following the sentencing, India approached the International Court of Justice, which restrained Pakistan from executing Jadhav in May last year. After several requests for consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav was denied by Pakistan, it finally conceded not to consular access but letting Kulbhushan’s family meet him in Islamabad.
India and Pakistan consider the release of prisoners from either side as a ‘goodwill gesture’. But little has been ever spoken about the agony and adversities of these prisoners. The Indian Express had reported in 2013, that the fishermen released by Pakistan had then complained that they were ill-treated in the jails there and the allowances earned by them were pocketed by the prison staff. They also complained that they were not served proper food, were made to wash cloths of Pakistani prisoners and clean the toilets and kept devoid of any kind of medical assistance.
The 86 fishermen, who were released from a Pakistani prison in 2016, had accused the jail authorities of ill-treatment and blamed them for the death of two of their compatriots who were lodged in the same prison.
While talking about brutality on Indian prisoners in Pakistan jail, no one can miss mentioning Sarabjit Singh. Swarna Lal, an Indian inmate imprisoned in Kot Lakhpat Jail along with Sarabjit had spoken to News18 in 2013, about how Indian prisoners are treated in a very inhuman way in Pakistani jails. He said that the Indians are treated like animals and beaten up brutally. He spoke about how Sarabjit was tortured in the jail by the authorities. He also recollected how another inmate Chamel Singh who had been killed inside a Pakistani jail.