June 15th, 2008 - 5:41 pm ICT by IANS
Rameswaram (Tamil Nadu), June 15 (IANS): The longing for a little adventure - a fishing trip with his elder brother - has led to a nightmarish experience for a 16-year-old schoolboy as he was caught by the Sri Lankan Navy and put in prison. Joseph is languishing for over two weeks in a prison in Anuradhapuram, Sri Lanka.
He is a Class 11 student in the Muthupet Higher Secondary School in Pamban area.
He has not been able to convince his captors that they were not involved in transporting "black powder" in their boat.
Joseph and his elder brother Ignatius, 22, come from a traditional fishing family in Pamban, on the Ramanathapuram coast.
"My sons have been fishing in these waters since childhood. We are innocent fishing families," Joseph’s distraught father, Arul Sahayam, told IANS.
As many as 23 Indian fishermen were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy May 26 allegedly while fishing between Katchchatheevu and Neduntheevu in the international waters between the two countries. They were on board four country boats.
The Indian fishermen were taken blindfolded to a temporary camp on a beach, and "flogged and tortured", according to the Organisation for Protection of Indians’ Rights Abroad (OPIRA).
They were questioned with guns pointed to their heads about association with the dissident Lankan Tamil outfit, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the rights group claimed.
These fishermen were produced before a magistrate May 28, after which they were sent to the Anuradhapuram prison.
Eighteen of the 23 fishermen were freed by the court and returned to Pamban, in Rameswaram, June 4. On their return, they described their ordeal to rights organisations in Tamil Nadu.
Five of them, all below 25 years of age, were not released by Sri Lanka.
With both his sons still in Sri Lankan custody, Arul Sahayam approached OPIRA.
"Joseph is only 16. He has to be treated as a child according to international norms. He was questioned with a gun pointed at his head and is kept in prison with adults," OPIRA director Agni Subramanian told IANS.
Joseph and his brother told OPIRA activists that their jailers have accused them of bringing "a black powder" in their boat.
"We do not know what this black powder is. The police won’t tell us. They only say, we brought it in our boat, hidden on the underside of the boat. If that is so, water would have soaked the powder," Joseph told OPIRA activists who recorded the conversation in Anuradhapuram.
Joseph said he only wanted to go on a fishing trip with his elder brother during school holidays.
OPIRA has now approached Tamil Nadu Governor Surjit Singh Barnala to facilitate the schoolboy’s release.