|Surjeet, not Sarabjit, freed|
27 June 2012
ISLAMABAD - Hours after reports emerged that Pakistan was to free Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh, the presidential spokesman on Tuesday night clarified that authorities had taken steps for the release of another Indian prisoner named Surjeet Singh who has been in jail for three decades, reported private TV channels.“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,” presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.Law Minister Farooq Naek earlier 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 added.Any references to President Asif Ali Zardari in the entire matter were ‘out of context’, the presidential spokesman said.Surjeet Singh, 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 Ziaul Haq.Earlier in the day, TV channels had reported that President Zardari had converted Sarabjit Singh’s death sentence to life imprisonment and directed authorities to release him if he had completed his prison term.Surjeet Singh was arrested in 1982 on charges of spying and was given the death sentence by the commanding officer of the 106 Brigade Headquarter, Lahore, Cantt.Surjeet had also given a mercy petition to the chief of army staff but that was rejected. Later, the then president Ishaq Khan on December 8, 1988, had converted his death sentence into life imprisonment following an announcement of general amnesty by the government. Paving the way for his release, Punjab government in Pakistan early this month had informed the Lahore High Court that Surjeet had completed his term and would be released.Staff Reporter adds: Earlier in the day, the news from the Presidency was that the death sentence of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian terrorist on death row in Kot Lakhpat Jail of Lahore for more than two decades for carrying out bomb blasts in 1990, was being freed.Sarabjit Singh, who has been in prison for 22 years, had been found guilty of spying and carrying out four bomb blasts, which killed 14 people in Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad in 1990. He had been convicted in 1991. He had also confessed to his crimes before a court. Sarabjit was set to be hanged in April 2008, but the authorities put off his execution indefinitely after former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani intervened. Sarabjit claimed that he is a poor farmer and victim of mistaken identity who strayed drunk from his border village into Pakistan. In 2008, President Pervez Musharraf had rejected Sarabjit’s mercy petition and signed his death warrant. Officials say Sarabjit is actually Manjit Singh who was arrested while trying to slip back into India after executing bomb blasts.Political observers were of the view that Pakistan’s move to free Indian prisoner seemed to be in reation of the release of Dr Khalil Chishti by India.Agencies add: Earlier speaking to CNN-IBN, President’s spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said Sarabjit had already completed his term in the prison, he would most possibly be released next week following clearance from the interior ministry. But later he corrected himself that it was Surjeet Singh and not Sarabjit Singh.Even Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna thanked President Zardari for the Sarabjit gesture. Indian Punjab’s ruling SAD-BJP alliance and opposition Congress also welcomed Pakistan’s decision.
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