Sri Lankan authorities alleged that the Indian fishermen entered Sri Lanka’s waters, crossing the international marine border.

Fishing boats at RameshwaramPTI | Representative Image
news Court Tuesday, January 25, 2022 - 19:05

A Sri Lankan court, on Tuesday, January 25, ordered the release of 56 Indian fishermen, who were detained for allegedly fishing in the nation's territorial waters. The fishermen were taken into custody during mid-December, and eight boats of the fishermen were also taken under the custody of Sri Lankan authorities.

The court in the northern Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka ordered the release of the fishermen who were detained by the Sri Lankan Navy in the seas south of Mannar. Indian High Commission in Colombo, in a tweet said, “Happy to learn that a Court has ordered the release of 56 Indian fishermen”.

‘Commend the work of High Commissioner Gopal Baglay and his team in securing the release’, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said in a tweet.

Both Sri Lankan officials and the Indian diplomatic sources confirmed to PTI the release of the fishermen. They further stated that with the release on Tuesday there are no more Indian fishermen under the custody of Sri Lanka.

The court order for the release of fishermen came as the Indian authorities urged Sri Lanka to release them on humanitarian grounds in the backdrop of economic assistance talks that were going on at the time. Last month, India had expressed concern over the detention of 68 of its fishermen from Tamil Nadu by Sri Lankan authorities and said the issue of their "early release" has been taken up with the island nation.

The issue of fishermen remains one of the irritants in India and Sri Lanka ties. There have been several alleged incidents of Sri Lankan Navy personnel even firing at Indian fishermen in the Palk Strait and seizing 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 issue of fishermen had figured in the talks between finance minister Basil Rajapaksa and External Affairs Minister Jaishankar earlier this month. India had expressed concern over the detention of 68 of its fishermen from Tamil Nadu by Sri Lankan authorities last month and said the issue of their "early release" has been taken up with the island nation.

The release of fishermen comes on a day when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin urged the Union government to take up the issue with the Sri Lankan government in a stern manner and also register its disapproval over the island nation's decision to auction boats seized from the Indian fishermen.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Stalin exhorted the Union government to register its disapproval in the "strongest possible terms at the appropriate level" and also prevail upon the Lankan government to recall the advertisement for auctioning Tamil Nadu fishing boats on which they do not have any legal rights. In his letter, 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" over the move to auction 105 fishing boats belonging to Tamil Nadu fishermen that are in the custody of Sri Lankan authorities. The continuing attacks on innocent Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan nationals are clearly aimed at keeping the Tamil Nadu fishermen away from their traditional fishing waters of Palk Bay, he said in the letter.

"I am constrained to point out that these attacks by Sri Lankan Nationals are disconcerting. This has become a matter of life and death for thousands of our fisherfolk whose livelihood is under serious threat," he said. Stalin said India cannot continue to be seen as a mute spectator as the rights of Indian fishermen are repeatedly trampled upon.

He requested the government of India to take this up with the Sri Lankan government in a "stern manner such that acts of physical assault and robbing or damaging of assets of fishermen does not take place in future."

(With PTI inputs)

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