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Now, uncertainty over Sarabjit Singh's fate

Gautam Dheer, CHANDIGARH, Nov 21, 2012, DHNS:

The uncertainty over the fate of Sarabjit Singh, the Indian prisoner on death row in Pakistan’s Kot Lakhpat jail, has only deepened following the execution of terrorist Ajmal Kasab on Wednesday.

Even as it still remains to be seen whether or not Kasab’s hanging would adversely impact Sarabjit’s mercy plea pending before the Pakistan president, Singh’s family back home in Punjab is keeping its fingers crossed.

Sarabjit’s family, including sister Daljit Kaur, who has been fighting since long to save her brother from the gallows, appeared apprehensive, perhaps out of the ambiguity arising out of Wednesday’s developments. “I will not speak about this issue,” she said. Kaur maintained that Sarabjit was not a spy and insisted that he accidentally strayed into Pakistan. “My brother was an ordinary farmer who mistakenly crossed the border while he was drunk. It’s a case of mistaken identity,” she reiterated.

Those in the know of the case, including human rights activists, do not rule out the possibility of repercussion on Sarabjit’s petition in wake of Kasab’s hanging. Sarabjit latest mercy petition was filed before the Pakistan president only last week and given the complexities of relations between the two nations, activists maintain that Wednesday’s developments in Pune may not be pleasing news for Sarabjit.

Singh was sentenced to death for alleged involvement in bomb attacks in 1990 in Multan that killed 14 people. In 2008, Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf had stayed Singh’s execution following the intervention of human rights activists and appeals by Kaur.

In an e-mail, Awais Sheikh, Singh’s lawyer in Pakistan, on Wednesday expressed confidence that Sarabjit would get justice and Kasab’s hanging would not have any impact on his release. Amid flip-flop, talks of Sarabjit’s release have been doing rounds throughout this year. Sheikh however maintained: “Sarabjit’s case is that of mistaken identity. FIR does not carry his name.”

He said Sarabjit has “suffered gross miscarriage of justice”. Expressing hope that Singh’s latest mercy petition would result into commutation his death sentence to life, Awais Sheikh said: “I being a humanist, do not endorse death penalty.”

The political overtones surrounding both Kasab’s and Sarabjit’s case notwithstanding, experts bring out a striking difference in the two cases. They say Sarabjit’s case has been receiving formal support from the Government of India which has urged the Pakistan government to view the case compassionately. In Kasab’s case, however, the Pakistan authorities have chosen to tread cautiously, given the plethora of material and visual evidence against him that led to his execution.

During his visit to Pakistan early this month, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had formally raised the issue with Pakistan ministers. Certain hardliners there however have been seeking Sarabjit’s execution. Former federal minister in Pakistan for human rights Ansar Burney stated that he was against the death penalty to any convict.


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