Chennai: Sixteen Tamil fishermen arrested by the Sri Lankan Coast Guard last year were released and returned to Tamil Nadu on Wednesday morning.
Charles Antony Raj, 34, Wilbert, 55, Isaikimuthu, 28, Shanthakumar, 18 and 12 others were released on December 24 but since they did not have any passport to return, had to wait for an emergency certificate from the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka.
The incident occurred when eight men had gone fishing from Pamban near Ramanathapuram. They had taken country boats and had decided to stay out in the sea for four or five days. They had gone on August 19 and had planned to return on August 22 morning. However, on August 21 night, the Sri Lankan Coast Guard surrounded their boat and arrested them. The Coast Guard informed them that they were in international waters and it was illegal to fish there. The eight men were arrested and locked up in Neer Vilambu jail, while their boats were seized.
They were kept in jail for seven weeks, after which they were produced in court where they were convicted. The judge sentenced them to 8 months imprisonment and a fine of `65 lakh per fishermen, sources said.
All eight were then taken to Phallam jail where their heads were tonsured and they were severely tortured. "We had only heard of hell until then. We have now experienced it," one fisherman said while meeting the press on Wednesday. "We were not given any proper food or anything. We met the other eight fishermen from Rameshwaram, Nagapattinam and Pudukottai over there," said one of the fishermen.
The 16 families had together approached the Central government....