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US: Sikh forgives man who called him 'Iraqi terrorist'

April 20, 2008 18:24 IST

An American man, who attacked a Sikh taxi driver and called him an 'Iraqi terrorist', has been awarded a lighter sentence of nine months in jail for the hate crime after the victim told the court that he had forgiven his attacker.

Judge Judge Monica Benton also handed down Luis Vazquez, 21, 240 hours of community service for the November 24 drunken assault on Sukhvir Singh, hailing from India, in King county of Washington state.

Deputy Prosecutor Mike Hogan asked for a two-year jail term, though he pointed out that Singh "has been forgiving of the attack from the beginning."

Benton said that while racism is pernicious and hate crimes undermine society, forgiveness and remorse play a role in justice as well, Seattle Times reported.

Vazquez pleaded guilty last month to reckless endangerment, second-degree assault and malicious harassment.

Vazquez told the court that he did not remember the drunken assault but was ashamed and shocked when he woke up in jail and learned what he had done.

"I'm really, really sorry for what I put you through," Vazquez told Singh during the hearing that was packed with members of the Sikh community. "I'm sorry for making you have to look back over your shoulder when you walk."

A drunk Vazquez was thrown out of a football game and put into a cab driven by Singh. While Singh was driving down, Vazquez punched him, bit him on the scalp and called him anĀ  'Iraqi terrorist'. Singh, who pulled to the side of the freeway, told police that he had been afraid for his life and that of others on the road.

Singh said, through a Punjabi interpreter, that he and other members of the Sikh community wanted to offer forgiveness to Vazquez once they learned he had no previous criminal offenses and had a history of steady work.

Singh said he did not want to see the young man's life ruined. "If someone has made a mistake, they should learn a lesson from it," Singh said. "They should be punished accordingly, and it should be known to society that it is not good to have hate towards any human being."

Several members of the Sikh community spoke at the hearing about how they have endured prejudice and slurs since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"I hope this message goes to the public," said Gurdev Singh Mann. "You should not be judging people from what they look like."

Vazquez said after the hearing that he was grateful for Singh's forgiveness and that he has learned his lesson. He is attending an alcohol-treatment programme and said he does not intend to drink anymore.

The New York-based Sikh Coalition had pushed for prosecutors to file the case as a hate crime. The Department of Justice is also investigating the case to determine whether Vazquez will be prosecuted for a federal hate crime as well, Federal Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Robbie Burroughs said.

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