ISLAMABAD: Within hours of Pakistan reportedly throwing a lifeline to Sarabjit Singh, the alleged Indian spy who was on death row on charges of terrorism, by commuting his sentence, his hopes were dashed as a Pakistani Presidential spokesman “clarified” past midnight that the Indian prisoner they planned to release was Surjeet Singh, who has been jailed for three decades and received a pardon in 1989.
News reports of an imminent release for Sarabjit, perhaps in a matter of days, had played out for hours before Pakistan chose to issue the clarification disassociating the President from the decision — indicating that foul play at the highest levels of the Pakistani government could not be ruled out. Sarabjit, 49, has been in Kot Lakhpat Jail for the past 22 years in what he claims is a case of mistaken identity.
News reports quoted Pakistani law minister Farooq Naek as saying President Asif Ali Zardari had commuted Sarabjit’s death sentence to life term. In the statement issued past midnight, though, the spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, said the law minister had, in fact, told the interior ministry that Surjeet Singh had completed his life term and ought to be released and sent back to India.
“There is some confusion. First, it is not a case of pardon. More importantly, it is not Sarabjit. It is Surjeet Singh … His death sentence was commuted in 1989 by President (Ghulam) Ishaq (Khan),” Babar said.
22-year ordeal continues
August 1990: Sarabjit crosses over to Pak near Kasur. Arrested, charged with involvement in serial blasts in Lahore & Multan in 1990 that left 14 dead
1991: Awarded death sentence by anti-terror court
March 2006: Pak Supreme Court rejects Sarabjit’s mercy petition, upholds death sentence
March 2008: Ex-president Pervez Musharraf rejects Sarabjit’s mercy petition May 2012 Sarabjit files fresh mercy plea, accepted by President Zardari
June 26: News reports emerge that Sarabjit Singh’s death sentence has been commuted, to be freed. Past midnight, Pak clarifies that prisoner to be released is Surjeet Singh, who was pardoned in 1989, not Sarabjit.
(With inputs from agencies)
- Surjeet not Sarabjit to be released, Pak clarifies (ibnlive.in.com)
- Surjit not Sarabjit Singh, clarifies president’s spokesman (dawn.com)
- Zardari commutes Sarabjit’s death sentence (thehindu.com)
- President commutes Sarabjit Singh death sentence into life imprisonment (nation.com.pk)
- Sarabjit Singh to be released from Pakistan prison (ibnlive.in.com)
- Misled by news reports, Sarabjit’s village rejoices (thehindu.com)
- Sarabjit Singh files fifth mercy petition (thehindu.com)
- Pakistan to release Indian prisoner on death row (sfgate.com)