ISMAIL SAMA, a cattle herder from Nana Dinara village in Gujarat’s Kutch district who went missing in 2008 and was later found in a Pakistani jail, was released on Friday following an order by the Islamabad High Court on January 14.
Ismail reached the Indian Red Cross Society’s branch in Amritsar after Pakistani officers handed him over to Indian authorities.
Nana Dinara village is located near Khavda, around 50 km from on the Indo-Pakistan border in Bhuj taluka of Kutch district.
Ismail went missing on August 28, 2008, and his wife Kamabai believes that her husband lost his way and inadvertently crossed over to the Pakistan side of the border or was abducted by Pakistani border guards.
For about a decade, the family had no news about him until Rafiq Jat, a native of a nearby village returned home after being released from Pakistan in October, 2017, and informed them that he and Ismail were together in a Karachi prison.
Ataulla, 33, the eldest of Ismail’s nine children, confirmed that his father had reached Amritsar. “At 6 pm on Friday, we received a phone call on my father’s mobile number. He had left his phone back home when he went missing and I had been using that number since. He remembered that number and dialled it after reaching Amritsar. He is coming home after 13 long years,” Ataulla told The Indian Express over phone from Allaiya Vandh area of Nana Dinara.
“He spoke to me, my mother Kamabai and my younger brother Qayum. My uncle Yunus and deputy sarpanch of our village, Fazalla Sama, are already on their way to Amritsar to receive him,” Ataulla said.
Citing documents he accessed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, Jatin Desai, former general secretary of the Indian chapter of Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), said that Ismail was awarded a five-year jail term by a Pakistani court in October 2011 on espionage charge. His prison term ended in October, 2016 but the cattle herder continued to languish in a Pakistani detention centre for more than four years as Indian authorities took time to confirm his nationality.
During a hearing in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case on January 2, India reportedly brought it to the notice of the Islamabad High Court that Ismail Sama continued to be detained in Pakistan even after he had served his prison term. The High Court, while hearing the matter again on January 14, had ordered Ismail’s release on January 22.
“Apparently Ismail was released on Thursday… Four years is a very long time after one has served his jail term. Both the countries should adopt a mechanism by which citizens of the other country are repatriated the very next day after his or her legal custody ends,” Desai told The Indian Express.
Noormamad Sama, sarpanch of Nana Dinara, said Fazalla and Ismail’s stepbrother Yunus had boarded a train from Gujarat on Thursday for Amritsar after being infromed by Desai that Ismail was likely to be handed over to Indian authorities at the Wagah border.
Fazalla Sama and Yunus reached Ghaziabad by Friday evening.
“We have reached Ghaziabad and are expecting to reach Amritsar by train on Saturday morning. I received a call from Ismail on Friday evening informing me that he was at the Indian Red Cross Society branch in Amritsar,” Fazalla, who also runs Shri Manav Seva Panchham Vistar Vikas Navjivan Trust, an NGO working for the welfare of people of western Kutch, said.
Desai said, “The cattle-herder lives in a village on the border and is jailed by Pakistan for walking a few kilometres from his home. It takes more than a decade for him to be released and more than a 2,000-kilometre long journey to come back home.” Desai has also been advocating a no-arrest policy at sea in cases when fishermen inadvertently cross the maritime boundary.
A spokesperson for the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi confirmed that one fisherman was repatriated on Friday.