A Sri Lankan court on Tuesday ordered the release of 56 Indian fishermen detained for allegedly fishing in the island nation’s territorial waters, a verdict that frees all remaining Indian fishermen languishing in prisons across the country.
The court in the northern Jaffna peninsula ordered the release of fishermen detained by the Sri Lankan navy in mid-December in the seas south of Mannar.
“Glad to hear that a court has ordered the release of 56 Indian fishermen,” the Indian High Commission in Colombo said in a tweet.
— India in Sri Lanka (@IndiainSL) January 25, 2022
“Salute the work of High Commissioner Gopal Baglay and his team to secure the release,” External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said in a tweet.
We salute the work of High Commissioner Gopal Baglay and his team to obtain the release.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) January 25, 2022
Sri Lankan officials and Indian diplomatic sources confirmed the release and noted that with Tuesday’s release there are no longer any Indian fishermen in the custody of the island nation.
The court order for the fishermen’s release came as Indian authorities urged Sri Lanka to release them on humanitarian grounds amid economic assistance talks that were taking place at the time.
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India this month announced an economic relief package for Sri Lanka to help its southern neighbor cope with its worst currency crisis.
The issue of fishermen had featured in talks between Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and External Affairs Minister Jaishankar earlier this month.
India last month expressed concern over the detention of 68 of its Tamil Nadu fishermen by Sri Lankan authorities and said the issue of their “early release” had been taken up with the island nation.
The issue of fishermen remains one of the irritants in relations between India and Sri Lanka.
There have been several alleged incidents where members of the Sri Lankan Navy even fired on Indian fishermen in the Palk Strait and seized their boats.
The Palk Strait, which is a narrow strip of water separating Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka, is a rich fishing ground for fishermen from both countries.
The release of the fishermen comes on a day when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin urged the Center to take up the issue with the Sri Lankan government in a tough manner and also register its disapproval of the island nation’s decision. to auction off seized boats from Indian fishermen. .
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In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Stalin urged the Center to register its disapproval in the “strongest possible terms at the appropriate level” and also persuade the Lankan government to recall the announcement of the auction of the boats of Tamil Nadu fishing over which they do have no legal rights.
In the letter to Modi, Stalin said steps should be taken to ensure the early release of 75 boats and fishing gear seized after 2018 by the Sri Lankan Navy.
He expressed “a deep sense of disappointment” at the decision to auction off 105 fishing boats belonging to Tamil Nadu fishermen who are in the custody of Sri Lankan authorities.
Stalin said India cannot continue to be seen as a silent bystander as the rights of Indian fishermen are repeatedly flouted.
He called on the Indian government to address this issue with the Sri Lankan government in a “stern manner so that acts of physical assault and theft or damage to the assets of fishermen do not happen again in the future. “.