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Exclusive! Sarabjit Singh files mercy plea with Zardari

By Amir Mir
April 10, 2012 12:39 IST
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Sarabjit Singh's Pakistani lawyers believe that following the Supreme Court of India's decision to release Dr Khalil Chishti on bail, there are chances of the Indian national getting a pardon from President Asif Zardari who has just returned from Ajmer Sharif, reports Amir Mir from Islamabad

Following the release of aged Pakistani national Dr Khalil Chishti by the Supreme Court of India on interim bail immediately after President Asif Zardari's visit on Sunady, Sarabjit Singh, an Indian national languishing in a Pakistani jail for almost two decades after being handed down the death sentence on terrorism charges, has filed a fresh mercy appeal with the Pakistani president.

The Pakistani media has already reported that Dr Chishti's release has something to do with President Zardari's Indian visit, during which he is believed to have requested Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to sympathetically consider the release of the aged Pakistani scientist who was accused of killing a man during a brawl in Ajmer in April 1992.

Dr Chishti's release has encouraged Sarabjit to fresh a fresh clemency petition with the Pakistani president to grant him pardon as allowed by the Pakistani constitution. Sarabjit was awarded the death sentence by a Pakistani anti-terrorist court way back in 1991, but his hanging has repeatedly been postponed since. The alleged spy was arrested crossing the border near the Kasur city of Pakistani Punjab in August 1990. His sentence was upheld by the Lahore high court in 2003 and later by the supreme court of Pakistan in 2006.

Sarabjit Singh was actually charged with carrying out four terrorist attacks in Pakistan -- the first one at Yakki Gate, Lahore, on April 13, 1990 in which three persons were killed; the second at Chowk Bhaatti Gate Lahore on May 18, 1990, killing nine persons; the third at Chowk Nazimabad, Lahore, on July 28, 1990, killing an eight-year-old; and the fourth at the Bahawana Bazaar, Faisalabad on August 30, 1990 that killed four people.

Sarabjit had confessed in 1990 to having been paid Rs 36,000 by India's external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing, to conduct multiple bomb blasts in Pakistan that killed 15 persons and injured 90. Following high-level India-Pakistan talks, Sarabjit was due to be released on August 14, 2011, in exchange for the release of Dr Khalil Chishti from a Rajasthan jail, but the decision was withdrawn at the eleventh hour as the Indian authorities did not release the 81-year old Pakistani scientist.

However, Sarabjit Singh's Pakistani lawyers now believe that following the Supreme Court's decision to release Dr Chishti on bail, there are chances of the Indian national getting a pardon from President Asif Zardari who has just returned from Ajmer Sharif. While President Zardari was in Ajmer, Sarabjit's family members, including his daughter Swapan Deep, also reached the dargah of the revered Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and sought an audience with the Pakistani president. But the meeting was disallowed by the Indian authorities.

As Zardari left the shrine, Swapan and her aunt Dalbir Kaur offered chadar at the dargah and prayed for Sabarjit's release. "Talking to newsmen later, Swapan Deep [who was holding a placard that read: Dilon ko phir se jodh dijiye, Sarbabjit ko chod dijiye (Unite hearts again, release Sarabjit)] said: "I appeal to Pakistani President Zardari to release my father as early as possible as he is innocent."

Sarbajit Singh, his wife Sukh Prit Kaur and his two daughters, Swapan Deep and Poonam Kaur, have claimed many times that he is just a poor farmer and a victim of mistaken identity, who had strayed into Pakistan from his village located on the Indo-Pak border. Sarabjit Singh, currently on death row in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat central jail, is hoping against hope that his fresh clemency appeal would get a favourable decision from the Pakistani head of state, especially after Shaukat Saleem, a key witness in one of the cases against him, has retracted his statement. But Sarabjit Singh's lawyer Rana Abdul Rana Hamid says Salim's statement has no value as it was never recorded in the court.

Besides his family members, the Indian government too has repeatedly requested the Pakistan government take a humanitarian view of Sarabjit Singh's case and release him. External Affairs Minister SM Krishna had stated in the Rajya Sabha in August 2011: 'We don't share Pakistan's view of Sarabjit Singh's involvement in serial blasts. We have taken up the issue of Sarabjit with the government of Pakistan very seriously. With Sarabjit's mercy petition pending before the president of Pakistan, it is necessary for them to take a humanitarian view of the petition. The issue is being pursued with all diligence at our command. The Government of India will do everything in its power to get the Indian national in Pakistan's custody released.'

Filing a fresh mercy petition with President Asif Zardari, Sarabjit's lawyer Rana Abdul Rana Hamid has submitted fresh evidence to prove that it is a case of mistaken identity. He has also filed a constitutional petition in Pakistan's supreme court for reopening the case, maintaining that the actual culprit behind the bomb blasts in Pakistan was Manjeet Singh and not Sarabjit Singh who was convicted and sentenced.

As per the petition, Manjeet, who had been arrested in India in 2010, has already confessed to his involvement in all the bomb blasts that took place in Pakistan. Asked about the chances of Sarabjit's mercy petition, his lawyer said that as per his information, the Pakistani ministry of law has already sent a summary to the ministry of interior, urging the government to commute Sarabjit's death sentence into life sentence. His mercy petition could be decided in the second phase, he added.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had announced on the floor of the national assembly on June 21, 2011, that all prisoners on death row in Pakistan would have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. The announcement was approved by the cabinet and reaffirmed by President Asif Zardari also time and again. But this promise has not yet been fulfilled due to unknown reasons.

As the Supreme Court of India has already released Dr Chishti on bail, here is an opportunity for the Pakistan government too to show its commitment to two causes -- human rights, and peace in South Asia. The truth is that Sarabjit's case has a direct bearing on India-Pakistan ties.
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Amir Mir in Islamabad