KARACHI – Pakistani fishermen organisations activists and Indian human right activist and journalist have demanded the Pakistan and Indian governments release all the fishermen jailed in both countries.

Mohammad Ali Shah, chairperson of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), Jatin Desai, senior journalist from Mumbai, India and Karamat Ali, Executive Director, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) while addressing a joint press conference at the Press Club on Monday said the arrest of Pakistani and Indian fishermen had intensified in the recent months after violations at the Line of Control (LOC).

The activists of both the countries said that during the last one month around 40 Indian boats had been confiscated by Maritime Security Agency of Pakistan, which involved over 100 fishermen, who were put behind the bars in Karachi's Malir jail. The total number of Indian fishermen in Malir jail is 342.

Similar is the situation on Indian side. According to official data provided in the Supreme Court of India as on February 12, 2013, a total of 297 Pakistanis had been languishing in Indian jails, which included 37 fishermen, they added.

“The process of verification of the citizens was quite cumbersome as according to the list submitted by the Indian government, there are 35 Pakistanis who have completed their sentences or there is no offence registered against them. They are waiting for verification of their documents/citizenship by Pakistani government. The government must complete these formalities so they can come to Pakistan as early as possible”, they said.

Activists said that due to these intensified arrests by the marine agencies of both the countries there is a fear and frustration among fishermen and they are reluctant to go into deep sea for fishing. The economy of these fishing villages and town is badly affected due to this profound fear of arrests. The families of arrested fishermen have already been suffering economic hardships due to confinement and confiscation of their source of livelihood that is boats, they noted.

They informed that a large number of fishing boats are lying on Karachi coast and in Saurashtra region of Gujarat state of India. Most of these boats are damaged or their machineries are stolen. There are reports that Maritime Security Agency of Pakistan has recently auctioned some of Indian boats at throwaway prices, which is illegal and violation of the international laws and treaties. According to data gathered from various sources, about 765 boats of Indian fishermen are lying along Karachi coast where as over 200 fishing boats of Pakistani fishermen are confiscated by Indian Coastguards, they added.

They reminded that the biggest confidence building measure would be "No Arrest Policy." Till this policy is evolved, we suggest that each fisherman should be provided a computerized identity card along with permit to do fishing for quick verification. Presently due to lack of identity the fishermen are languishing behind the bar for many years despite the maximum sentence awarded to them is six months imprisonment, they demanded.

To monitor and prevent the arrest of fishermen and confiscation of the boats a high level working group, with representatives from the fisherfolk should be formed.

Towards evolving a permanent South Asian remedy of this problem, they intended to bring the fishing communities of all the coastal areas of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives at Colombo by next month, they announced, adding this South Asian meeting of fishermen would discuss the detained fishermen issue and evolve a mutual strategy in this regard.