India-Pakistan panel lays down guidelines for prisoners

New Delhi, May 3 (IANS) Consular access should be granted within three months and prisoners repatriated within a month of their sentences being completed, an India-Pakistan judicial panel that visited three jails in Pakistan has recommended.

The panel, which met with Indian prisoners lodged in Pakistan, comprised Justice (Retd.) A.S. Gill and Justice (Retd.) M.A. Khan from India and Justice (Retd.) Abdul Qadir Chaudhry, Justice (Retd.) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Justice (Retd.) Mian Muhammad Ajmal from Pakistan.

The team visited the District Jail Malir in Karachi, the Adiyala Jail in Rawalpindi and the Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore between April 26-May 1, 2013.

The panel, which concluded its visit just a day before Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh died in Lahore after being attacked in Kot Lakhpat, recommended that the Consular Access Agreement of May 2008 between the two countries “be implemented in letter and spirit and consular access be provided within three months of the arrest”.

Complete details of the charges and a copy of court’s judgment of the sentence must be shared in each case, said a statement.

“The prisoners must be repatriated within one month of confirmation of national status and completion of sentences.”

According to the panel, there were 29 Indian prisoners who had completed their sentence more than a month ago in the Karachi jail. It recommended that they be released and repatriated before May 17, 2013.

The panel found “there were 459 fishermen and 10 such civil prisoners in the three jails for whom consular access was not provided. The committee recommended providing consular access to all such prisoners and fishermen before May 17, and the Pakistani side agreed for the same”.

The team suggested that consular access be provided to all prisoners/fishermen who are believed to be Indian in Pakistani jails and vice versa at least four times a year — in the first week of February, first week of May, first week of August, and first week of November.

It said several names “had been dropped from the successive lists of prisoners, believed to be Indian, which were shared by Pakistan side twice every year”.

It recommended that Pakistan “provide a formal verification to Indian side and vice versa if any names were left out from the previous list of prisoners, so that each side could follow up on each case…”.

The panel recommended a mechanism for “compassionate and humanitarian consideration” for women, juvenile, mentally challenged, elderly and all those suffering from serious illness. Those seriously ill and deaf and mute prisoners must be kept in appropriate hospitals/special institutions.

The panel also suggested that the respective high commissions should set up a panel of lawyers and firms of good repute to pursue the cases of prisoners in local courts, if the prisoner so wishes.

The team also “endorsed the recommendations of the Home/Interior Secretary level talks held on March 28-29, 2011, at New Delhi to task the Pakistani Maritime Security Agency and Coast Guard of India to work on setting up a mechanism for release of inadvertent crossers (fishermen) and their boats, on the same lines as the inadvertent crossers on land”.

The committee would review the action taken report on the earlier recommendations when it meets next in India, said the statement.

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