by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
NEW DELHI, India— Hundreds of Pakistani citizens are being held without charge in Indian jails located in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s Supreme Court revealed on Friday.
Speaking for the Court’s Bench, Judge RN Lodha proclaimed that it was “shocking that over 254 Pakistani nationals are languishing in jails without trial.”
The plight of the prisoners came to light as the Court heard a petition seeking the release of the prisoners.
Petitioner, Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party president Bhim Singh, said that the illegally detained prisoners included four Pakistani soldiers, a number of insurgents and nineteen women who had unintentionally across the border from Pakistan.
The four Pakistani soldiers were arrested between 1965 and 1967 after crossing the dividing line between Pakistani-controlled Kashmir and Indian-controlled Kashmir. The four have been held without charge ever since.
The Pakistani Army had initially informed the soldiers families that the four were dead. However, in 2006 a freed prisoner told the families that he had seen the soldiers in prison in 1998. Upon hearing the news, the families contacted the Red Cross in an attempt to find further information, but no trace of the prisoners could be found until last April.
In Ludhiana Jail in Punjab, another prisoner, who was pregnant when she was arrested in 2002 after crossing the border, has watched her daughter spend the first nine years of her life behind bars.
After learning of the large number of uncharged prisoners, the Court strongly chastised the government for failing to give a full account of the extent to which foreign nationals are imprisoned in Indian jails.
The Court ordered the government to file a “comprehensive report” including “complete information” within two weeks.
Judge Lodha stressed that; “…liberty is the most dear Article to [the Court] and the most precious right given to the people.”
The right to personal liberty is protected in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and applies to everyone regardless of whether they are are Indian citizens or foreign nationals.
In 2010, the Court began monitoring the repatriation of Pakistani prisoners by the Indian government after Bhim Singh alerted them irregularities in the process. That year the Home Ministry reported that it had repatriated 293 Pakistanis including 130 prisoners and 163 fishermen.
However, the ministry also reported that an additional 500 Pakistanis remained in Indian prisons.
The ministry’s affidavit stated that India’s government exchanges prisoner lists with Pakistan twice each year.
The court order comes on the heals of Thursday’s more upbeat statement by the prime minsters of India and Pakistan. The two leaders proclaimed that the two countries relations are inextricably linked and promised a “new chapter” in Indian-Pakistani relations.
For more information, please see:
BBC News — India Court Shocked at Pakistanis Held without Charge — 11 November 2011
The Telegraph — India’s Supreme Court Denounces Pakistani Jail Term Discovery — 11 November 2011
Times of India — Pakistan Men in Jail for 40 Years Appals Supreme Court — 12 November 2011
The Nation — Indian SC ‘Shocked’ by Pakistanis in Jail — 11 November 2011