Sri Lanka to prosecute Indian fishers in its custody

Judicial proceedings chosen over quick repatriation because fishers were committing the crime time and again, says Lankan minister

By M Suchitra
Published: Tuesday 20 August 2013

India on Monday urged Sri Lanka to send back over 100 Indian fisher people it has taken into custody in recent weeks for allegedly crossing into its (Sri Lankan) territorial waters.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has emphasized on the need for expeditious return of the fishers in Sri Lankan jails as this has been the process followed by both sides till recently. India wants Sri Lanka to treat this as a humanitarian issue. The fishers have been in custody for about two months. Of the 119 fishers arrested by Sri Lankan Navy in June, July and August, 90 are from Tamil Nadu and 19 from Puducherry.
India was responding to Sri Lanka’s decision to prosecute the fishers. Sri Lanka’s external affairs minister G L Peiris, who  arrived in New Delhi on Sunday to hand-deliver a personal invitation to the prime minister to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo in November, has stated that his country has decided to initiate judicial proceedings against the fishers instead of early repatriation.

According to Peiris, fishers from India come in large numbers for fishing in Sri Lankan waters. They come as close as 700 metre from Sri Lanka’s eastern sea-board. “This is a very volatile issue, and Sri Lanka is anxious to resolve the problem, said Peiris. Till recently, Indian fishers who get caught for entering Sri Lankan waters were released quickly. “But they are committing the same crime again and again, so our country is forced to some take action,” said Peiris.

"There is no intention whatsoever to harass or oppress fishers or keep them in custody for long periods. Due care will always be given to treating fishers in a humane manner," he assured.
On August 7, India had summoned the Sri Lankan high commissioner and lodged a formal protest against the custody of Indian fishers.

‘Fishers did not violate any law’
Fishers’ associations in India have urged the Central government to take initiative to resolve the matter through dialogue between the representatives of the fishers of the two countries in the presence of the envoys of the two governments.

In a memorandum to the prime minister on August 7, the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF) had urged him to rescue the fishers languishing in various prisons in Sri Lanka by exerting pressure on the country through diplomatic channels.
According to the forum, the fishers have not violated laws and were fishing in Indian waters. The forum has charged that the Sri Lankan navy trespassed into Indian waters and arrested the fishers. The forum alleged that the navy personnel hurled petrol bombs at the fishers and attacked them with sharp weapons, inflicting injuries. The forum has also alleged that the Sri Lankan guards have damaged fishing nets and dumped the catch into the sea. The navy has even shot and injured a fishers in March this year, the memorandum stated.


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