Saudi Arabia to release 850 Indian prisoners, raise Hajj quota for Indians

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Saudi Arabia will release 850 Indians from its prisons after a request from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to New Delhi, India’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

Along with the release of the prisoners, the Saudi Crown Prince has also announced the increase in quote for Indian Hajj pilgrims to 200,000 from existing quota of 170,000 at the request of PM Modi.

“Another big deliverable! At the request of the PM @narendramodi, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has ordered the release of 850 Indian prisoners lodged in Saudi jails,” Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.

Saudi jails hold the greatest number of Indians incarcerated in any country abroad. As of January 2019, 2,224 Indians were jailed in the kingdom for crimes including murder, kidnapping, bribery, cheating, and offences related to drugs and alcohol, according Indian Foreign Ministry figures.

PM Modi and the Saudi prince had held bilateral talks earlier in the day in the shadow of escalating tension with Pakistan over last week’s terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district, in which 40 CRPF soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber of Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Calling terrorism and extremism a “common concern”, the Crown Prince in a joint press conference with PM Modi said Saudi Arabia will “cooperate with India and neighbouring states” on the matter.

Amid India’s efforts to diplomatically isolate Pakistan over the Pulwama terror attack, the Saudi Crown Prince had announced investments worth 20 billion dollars during his two-day visit to Islamabad on Monday. He had also ordered the release of about 2,100 Pakistani prisoners during his visit to Islamabad.

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The Saudi prince’s two-day visit comes nearly three years after PM Modi’s visit to Riyadh in 2016, during which the two nations expanded cooperation across diverse areas including trade, investment and counter-terrorism.

In New Delhi on Wednesday, Prince Mohammed said he expected investment opportunities worth more than $100 billion in India over the next two years.

Published on 20 February 2019

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