NEW DELHI: Ravi Nitesh is a worried man. Since May 2008, India and Pakistan have been exchanging lists of prisoners in each other’s custody on January 1 and July 1 every year. While both sides release the number of people from the other nation lodged in their jails, broadly breaking them up into fishermen and civilians, their names and details were not released in the public domain until 2014.Ravi, founder of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an NGO which aims to improve relations between the two bellicose neighbours, filed a request in 2014 under the Right to Information Act, and received the detailed list. Since then, he has been filing RTIs twice a year to get the list, which he uploads on his site.
But this year, something has changed. “Earlier, the list included details like name, parentage, jail name, FIR details, date of sentencing, date of sentence completion, date of consular access and nationality,” Ravi told The Sunday Standard. “This was maintained till the last list exchanged on July 1, 2017. But in the list that was exchanged on January 1, 2018, only the name and the parentage are provided.” (see images)
“The lack of details will definitely affect people on both sides, especially families that want to know the status of their kin lodged in jail,” said Ravi. “It will also affect civil society activists who want to help people on either side as they will be clueless about status of punishment and nationality confirmation. It would also be impossible for charitable organisations to contact local jail authorities concerned for the purpose of providing any kind of relief or legal assistance.”
He cited the example of “mother of Hamid Ansari, an Indian who is lodged in Pakistani jail, who is concerned if consular access has been provided to him”. While it is possible that the details may have been left out by officials who released the list to him, Ravi said the “main concern is this: What if this is the actual list the governments exchanged with each other this time?”
If that is the case, it is cause for alarm because it would be a clear sign that both governments are just paying lip service to the 2008 Agreement on Consular Access, which implies that they are not concerned about their own people lodged in foreign jail, he said. On March 7, Pakistan’s Foreign minister Khwaja Asif agreed to External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s request to exchange three categories of prisoners — women, prisoners with special needs and inmates above 70 years — and even suggested expanding the category to include prisoners over 60 years of age and those under 18. But weeks later, the vicious spat over diplomatic harassment put paid to the idea, with Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi Sohail Mahmood saying the circumstances called for “a rethink.” Meanwhile, Ravi and the families of Indian prisoners in Pakistan, continue to fret.