Pakistani civil society members meet Sonia Gandhi


New Delhi : Congress president Sonia Gandhi Wednesday conveyed her gratitude to a group of civil society activists from Pakistan who had worked for the release of Indian fishermen lodged in jails in that country.

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The civil society activists from Pakistan, who met Sonia Gandhi at her residence, also sought early release of prisoners from their country who had completed their sentence in Indian jails and counsellor access to other prisoners.

Accompanied by Hind-Pak Dosti Manch members Kuldip Nayar and Mahesh Bhatt, the activists apprised Congress president of the efforts in getting Indian fishermen released.

Pakistan has released 442 Indian fishermen over the past 10 days.

The civil society activists also met Home Minister P. Chidambaram and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna to seek release of Pakistani prisoners.

“The home minister said that if any Pakistan prisoner has completed his sentence, he will be released immediately,” Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid told reporters here.

He said the Congress president was also “very receptive” to the demand.

Justice Zahid, who is a member of the India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners, said release of Indian prisoners followed a petition in the Pakistani Supreme Court. He said the matter was still being heard but the “government, realising that it cannot satisfy the court, issued order for release of 442 prisoners”.

“This is the biggest batch of prisoners to be released in one go between the two countries,” he said.

He said there were 140 Indian fishermen left in Pakistan jails and efforts were being made to secure their release in the next three-four months.

Justice Zahid said they had urged Indian authorities to release 43 Pakistani fishermen and 28 other civilian prisoners who had completed their sentence and whose travel papers were ready.

Film director Mahesh Bhatt said he told the Congress president that the civil activists from Pakistan had created a miracle in a murky atmosphere by getting 442 Indian fishermen freed.

He said that Pakistani prisoners, who hailed from areas ravaged by floods in that country, should also be released to enable them to spend Eid with their families.

Former Law Minister of Pakistan Iqbal Haider, who fine-tuned the petition seeking release of Indian prisoners, said that it marked a new chapter in the history of the two countries.

He said that there were 128 Indian fishermen facing trial and efforts were being made to secure their release also.

Haider said that the word “thank you” said by Sonia Gandhi “mattered a lot for us and made us proud.”

He hoped the Indian authorities will Thursday order release of Pakistani prisoners who had completed sentence so that they can go back more satisfied.

Haider said that “estimates put the number of Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails at more than 900 of whom 772 were those against whom neither cases have proceeded nor charges against them disclosed.”

Answering queries, Justice Zahid said that most fishermen were caught by Indian and Pakistani authorities in the Sir Creek area.

Nayar said that people from India including doctors who wanted to go to Pakistan to help flood-hit people were not finding it easy to get visas. However, he added that civil society members will go to Pakistan next month.

The civil society members also demanded release of 16 Pakistani prisoners following Supreme Court verdict on a petition filed by Panthers Party leader Bhim Singh.

Karamat Ali, executive director, Pakistan Institute of Labour and Research, said 20 million people in Pakistan had been hit by the floods and India should offer substantial aid in form of food and medicines.