The government does not provide data on the number of Indians in foreign prisons on a periodic basis. However, often, such country-wise data is provided in response to questions in the Lok Sabha & the Rajya Sabha. As per data provided in March 2023, out of 8437 Indians in foreign jails, more than 55% are in Middle Eastern countries.
Recently, Pakistan released 198 Indian fishermen who were earlier arrested by Pakistani authorities for alleged illegal fishing in their waters. Authorities said that more Indian fishermen would be released in the next few months. Fishermen are among the most common group of people who are arrested by foreign authorities, many times owing to their ignorance on the boundaries of international waters.
Apart from fishermen treading into waters held in other countries, there are various other reasons why citizens of a country are held in custody by a foreign country. How many Indians are languishing in foreign jails? What are the trends over the years? Which country has the highest number of Indians in its prisons? In this story, we analyse the data relating to Indians in foreign jails.
Data Methodology: Information on Indians in foreign jails is not centrally available in any repository or report published by the Government of India. However, the government has furnished this information in the parliament at various points in time. We have collated the information from the responses provided by the government in the parliament over the years.
The years mentioned in the story refer to the year in which the government provided the information in the parliament. Hence, there are gaps in the timeline with information not being furnished by the government every year.
More than 8 thousand Indians languishing in foreign jails as of 2023
As per an update provided by the Ministry of External Affairs on 24 March 2023, in the Lok Sabha, a total of 8,437 Indians are languishing in foreign jails as of that date. Based on the historical data that we collated from the various responses in the parliament, this is the highest number of Indians held as prisoners in foreign jails since 2007.
As per the response provided in Lok Sabha in 2007, there were 6277 Indians as prisoners in foreign jails. Except for a few years in which the information was provided in parliament, there has been a slight increasing trend in the number of Indian prisoners in foreign jails over the years. The status of the trial of these prisoners varies. While there is no comprehensive information available on the status of the trial of the various prisoners held, the government provided such information in the Lok Sabha on a few occasions.
In an update provided in 2022, a total of 156 Indians out of 8278 in prisons, were serving a life sentence. In an earlier update provided in 2016, the government stated that 354 prisoners had completed their sentences and were awaiting release and repatriation.
Most Indians held as Prisoners in Middle Eastern countries.
As per the response provided in March 2023, UAE accounted for 23% (or 1966) of the Indians held as prisoners in foreign jails. The next highest is in Saudi Arabia, where 1,362 Indians i.e., 16% of the total are held in prisons, as per the latest available information. India’s neighbouring country of Nepal currently accounts for the third-highest number of Indians in foreign jails.
Here is a snapshot of the trends for a few of the key countries:
- In the top-10 countries currently holding Indians as prisoners are other Middle Eastern countries of Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain. Malaysia also has a sizable number of Indians as prisoners.
- As per the data available in the earlier years, Saudi Arabia and UAE were among the countries with the highest number of Indians as prisoners, though there have been some changes in their position.
- Meanwhile, there are significant changes in the number of prisoners held by a few other countries over the years. This is especially true in the case of neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Pakistan.
- In 2007, Bangladesh held 893 Indians as prisoners. This fell to 338 as per the update provided in Lok Sabah in 2009. The numbers continued to dwindle with currently 60 Indians languishing in Bangladesh’s jails as of 2023. Over the years, there have been multiple batches of Indian prisoners released by Bangladesh.
- In the case of Pakistan, there isn’t any common trend. As per the update provided in 2007, there were 655 Indians in Pakistani prisons. This number varied across the years. In 2019, only 48 Indians were held in Pakistan Prisons. However, the numbers increased to 524 and 701 in the next two updates provided in 2021 and 2022. As per the latest update in 2023, there are 51 Indians held in Pakistan.
- The case of Nepal contrasts with Bangladesh, where-in there is an increasing number of Indians held as prisoners.
Illegal Stay, fraud, Illegal activities are among the reason for arrest of citizens abroad.
There are various reasons why Indians were held in foreign jails. In the update provided by the government in Lok Sabha in 2019, country wise list of reasons for the arrests was provided. However, no information is provided on the number of persons in custody for a particular crime, which does not provide scope to ascertain the main reasons.
In the case of UAE, which even in 2019 has among the highest number of Indians as prisoners, the reasons include – Murder, Drugs, Alcohol, Cheque bounce, financial fraud, etc. Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries also have similar reasons for which Indians were arrested. It ought to be noted that a large number of Indians live in these countries, mostly for unskilled employment.
In the case of neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh, the case of illegal entry along with illegal trafficking is the main reasons. Drugs and smuggling activities are among the main reasons in Nepal & Bangladesh. Illegal entry is also one of the reasons in countries like the USA & UK, which do present better employment and living opportunities.
Pakistan accounts for the highest share of Fishermen in foreign jails
As highlighted above, recently 198 Indian fishermen were released by Pakistan. 200 fishermen were planned to be released but 2 died due to sustained illness. Pakistan has made known its intentions to release 300 more Indian fishermen in two batches during July. This would substantially bring down the number of Indian fishermen being held captive in foreign jails. The latest available information on the number of fishermen in foreign jails is an update provided by the government in Lok Sabha in March 2022. Responding to a question in Lok Sabha, Minister for External Affairs stated that 637 Indian fishermen were imprisoned in foreign jails as of that date. The most were in Pakistan with 577. However, with the recent release and the ones proposed, there would be a substantial reduction in the numbers. Among the other countries which held Indian fishermen captive are – Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Indonesia, & Seychelles. All these countries share a maritime border with India across – the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the Arabian Sea.
While a majority of fishermen get apprehended due to their ignorance in crossing the maritime borders, the same is not the case with the other Indians being imprisoned in foreign jails. Even major crimes are cited as the reasons for imprisonment.
The Government of India provides legal aid and assistance to those requiring the same, depending on the merit of the case. An update provided in 2018, states that the Indian government has spent around Rs. 2.71 crores towards various efforts to free Indian prisoners.