“We are happy that his release has been ordered. Now we just hope that he is out soon,” said Arbab Ali, the maternal uncle of 14-year-old Asmad Ali who had "accidentally" crossed over to the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) in November 2021. A student of class 9, Asmad was ordered to be released by the Juvenile Justice Board in Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch district on Thursday, 25 August.
“We heard about the release order of Asmad through social media and via activist Rahul Kapoor. We have not received any official communication from the responsible authorities. We don’t know by when he will be released, but we hope he is released soon," Arbab told The Quint.
On Thursday, the Juvenile Justice Board also announced the release of another Pakistani schoolboy, Khayam Maqsood (16), who was held by the Indian authorities in August 2021 for crossing the border.
The Quint tried contacting Khayam’s family but did not receive a response.
In an order dated 5 August, the board acquitted Khayam. Meanwhile, in an order dated 25 August, Asmad was convicted of crossing the border but was not sentenced because he is a juvenile.
'He Is Fond of Birds and Animals': Asmad's Uncle
Arbab, a taxi driver in Pakistan's Rawalpindi, said that Asmad lost his mother at a very young age after which his father abandoned him. “His grandparents and I have been taking care of him since then,” he added.
“Asmad is a simple boy who went to school and is very fond of birds and animals,” Arbab said, adding that he had raised pigeons and a few goats as pets at home.
Both Asmad and Khayam were booked under the Egress and Internal Movement Ordinance (E&IMCO). Asmad has been at a juvenile home in Ranbir Singh Pura district for around nine months whereas Khayam has spent over a year in custody.
Why Did They Cross the Border?
“We don’t know how he crossed the border? Earlier, we thought he was chasing his pigeons but later we got to know that he was with his goats. Only he can confirm it now,” Arbab said.
As mentioned by Arbab, initial reports suggested that Asmad had been chasing pigeons and crossed the border. However, as per Asmad’s statement noted in the board’s order, he was with his goats and there were dogs behind the goats. “Due to the scare of dogs he came into the territory of J&K and army officers arrested him. Only then he came to know that he is in another country,” the order noted. Asmad also added that he did not know about the border.
Arbab Ali also said, “Our home is very close to the LoC but there is no fence or barbed wire there. Anyone can cross the border by mistake.”
Khayam, in his statement as noted by the release order, also said that he crossed the LoC while running and searching for his goats. He further stated that only when Indian Army officers arrested him, he came to know that he was in another territory.
“His parents had given him some money which were lying with him. He neither knows the LoC nor was there any officer who would have forbidden him,” the order noted citing Khayam's statement.
‘Have Communicated the Order to Diplomats of Both Countries’: Rahul Kapoor
Rahul Kapoor, a human rights activist who worked for the release of the two boys, told The Quint that Asmad did not have access to a counselor for over three months after his arrest. “I communicated about the same to relevant authorities after which he was granted counsellor access after being taken to Amritsar jail in March 2022," Kapoor said.
He also added that Asmad was only able to talk to his family in June 2022, six months after his arrest.
Kapoor also said that he had started an online petition signed by over 15,000 people for Asmad's release. He also added that he has communicated the release order to India's Ministry of External Affairs and the Pakistan High Commission to avoid any diplomatic delay and ensure the quick release of the boys.
Allegations Against Asmad Stand Proven: Order
Asmad's release order stated that the allegations against the "child in conflict" stand proven. "Allegations against the accused of crossing over to India from Pakistan without proper permission has thereby committed offence under sections 2/3 E & IMCO and these allegations against the child in conflict stand proved," the order stated.
"He is convicted but being a juvenile, he cannot be sentenced under the law," it added.
The order further stated that Asmad was ordered to be released subject to the furnishing of an undertaking duly attested by the magistrate that he shall not repeat the offence.
Allegations Against Khayam Not Proven: Order
Khayam was also booked under the same charges as Asmad.
While ordering the release of Khayam, the board said that the "facts and circumstances under which the child in conflict with law crossed over to the Indian Territory have not been proved."
"Allegations against the accused have not been proved beyond reasonable shadow of doubt, whether he himself crossed over to this side of the LoC, or he has been arrested from No Man's Land, or from other side of the LoC," the order added.
The board further acquitted Khayam and ordered him to be released.
Two More Pakistani Children in Same Juvenile Home
Kapoor also said that there are two more Pakistani minors in the same juvenile home as Asmad and Khayam.
15-year-old Sainullah has been in custody since September 2021 while 17-year-old Mohammed Anwar crossed the border in 2019. Anwar was acquitted in 2021 but has not been released till now, Kapoor added.