India on Wednesday requested Pakistan to release death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh after Islamabad in a midnight twist said it had taken steps for the release of another Indian prisoner named Surjeet Singh who has been jailed for three decades.
Hours after reports emerged on Tuesday that Pakistan was to free Sarabjit Singh, the presidential spokesman later in the night clarified that authorities were working on the release of Surjeet Singh.
External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, who had thanked President Asif Ali Zardari following reports that Sarabjit was to be released, welcomed the decision to release Surjeet and made a fresh request for the release of Sarabjit.
"I have seen media reports about the impending release from imprisonment in Pakistan of Surejeet Singh... I welcome this decision and further renew our request to the President of Pakistan to release Sarabjit Singh who has been in custody for over two decades. He is serving a death sentence," Krishna said.
"As you are aware India has consistently urged the government of Pakistan on several occasions to take a sympathetic and humanitarian view on the case of Sarabjit Singh. I also appeal to the government of Pakistan to release all Indian nationals who have completed prison term. I request the release of all Indians who are serving jail sentences in Pakistani prisons," the minister said.
In a midnight drama after Pakistani news channels played out for hours that Sarabjit was to be released, Pakistani Presidential Spokesman Farhatullah Babar disassociated the President from any such decision.
"I think there is some confusion. First, it is not a case of pardon. More importantly, it is not Sarabjit. It is Surjeet Singh, son of Sucha Singh. His death sentence was commuted in 1989 by President (Ghulam) Ishaq (Khan) on the advice of (then Premier) Benazir Bhutto," he said.
Law Minister Farooq Naek had conveyed to the Interior Ministry that Surjeet Singh had completed his life term in jail and ought to be released and sent back to India, Babar said.
"Keeping him in jail any longer will be illegal confinement," he had said.
Any references to President Zardari in the entire matter were "out of context", the Presidential spokesman had said.
Surjeet, currently being held in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore, has been in Pakistani captivity for over 30 years. He was captured near the border with India on charges of spying during the era of military ruler Zia-ul-Haq.
Sarabjit, 49, who too is being held at Kot Lakhpat, was sentenced to death for alleged involvement in a string of blasts in Punjab province in 1990.