More than 7,700 Indian nationals are languishing in various jails in about 77 countries for crimes like drug trafficking, illegal stays and  smuggling, among other crimes, according to recent information shared by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in the Lok Sabha earlier this month.

As per the MEA, a total of 35 Indian nationals have died while in custody in jails of 13 foreign countries. Pakistan reported the highest number of custodial deaths of Indian nationals in their prisons, followed by Bangladesh where six Indians died while in custody of Bangladeshi authorities. Other countries which reported custodial deaths of Indian nationals in foreign prisons include Bhutan, Oman, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Thailand, Sri Lanka, France, among others.

In terms of the highest number of Indians languishing in foreign jails, Middle East countries account for over 60% of total Indians in foreign jails. Some 1,690 Indians are lodged in different jails in the UAE, making it the country with the highest number of Indian nationals in their jails.

After UAE, Saudi Arabia has about 1,575 Indians as prisoners in their jails, including 40 Indian females as prisoners, while Qatar, Kuwait and Oman together have some 721 Indians in their jails. Most of those arrested in the Middle East have been involved in crimes like selling and trading of alcohol which is prohibited in their countries, drug dealing, theft, smuggling, visa rule violations, and some also for driving rule violations.

Western countries like the United States and Canada, which witness a huge amount of Indian immigration, had arrested about 647 and 70 Indians respectively as prisoners. The United Kingdom has about 378 Indian prisoners, Italy has 225, while Germany and France together have about 92 Indians languishing in their jails.  Officially, 470 Indians are languishing in different Pakistani jails some of whom are fishermen who were arrested by Pakistani officials for mistakenly entering Pakistani waters. Not surprisingly, 159 of the total prisoners are Gujaratis who had mistakenly entered Pakistani waters. Among others Indians in Pakistani jails four are from Delhi, 21 from Uttar Pradesh, seven from Jammu and Kashmir and others from states like Punjab, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra.

As many as 83 Indian defence personnel are in custody of Pakistani officials. However, according to the MEA, Pakistani officials have repeatedly failed to acknowledge the custody of these defence officials who went missing from the India-Pakistan border areas. Minister of State for External Affairs General (retd) V.K. Singh said, “Pakistani officials have not recognised the presence of these 83 defence personnel with them, but the government regularly takes up the issue of early release and repatriation of missing defence personnel with Pakistan authorities through diplomatic channels.”

In South-East Asian countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Philippines, some 500 Indians are languishing in their jails mostly for crimes like drug trafficking, human trafficking and visa violations.

The MEA has said that the Centre has spent over Rs 27 million between 2015 and March 2018, for providing assistance to Indian nationals arrested in foreign lands. “As soon as information about detention/arrest of an Indian national is received by an Indian Mission/Post, it gets in touch with the local Foreign Office and other local authorities concerned to get consular access to the detained/arrested Indian national to confirm his Indian nationality and ensure his welfare. Legal panels have been set up in Indian Missions and Posts abroad where the Indian community is in sizeable numbers. Under revised Indian Community Welfare Fund guidelines, the scope of legal assistance has been broadened,” General (retd) V.K. Singh told the Lok Sabha.

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