An Indian national found guilty of heroin smuggling in Indonesia and sentenced to death escaped the firing squad after last-minute diplomatic efforts by India, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Friday.
Gurdip Singh was one of 14 people scheduled to be executed but was given a reprieve of uncertain duration, along with nine others on the death row.
All four people executed -- an Indonesian and three Nigerians -- were convicted on drugs-related charges.
“Indian ambassador in Indonesia has informed me that Gurdip Singh whose execution was fixed for last night, has not been executed,” Swaraj tweeted.
Hours before the executions, rights groups from across the world had called on the Asian nation’s government – which has exceptionally stringent laws in drugs-related cases -- to spare the lives of the convicted.
This was the third set of executions under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo who was elected in 2014 on a campaign to improve human rights.
“We think he has been spared as of now. Further details are awaited. We hope our diplomatic efforts, which is now focussed on getting him seek presidential clemency works out”, an external affairs ministry official said.
India had taken up the matter with both the Indonesian foreign ministry and the president’s office, sources said.
Singh, 48, was handed the capital punishment by a state district court in Banten province in February 2005. His appeals were turned down by Banten high court and the Indonesian supreme court.
Along with him, three Nigerians, two Indonesians, a Pakistani, a Zimbabwean national and a South African escaped the firing squad, sources said.
“We are grateful to the Indian government. He called from jail a short while ago to say he is fine. All he wants now is to return home. We appeal to the government to help him come back,” Singh’s wife Kulwinder Kaur told HT over the phone.
Afdhal Muhammad, Singh’s legal representative, was of the view that he could file for Presidential clemency. The Indian embassy sent a note to the ministry of foreign affairs of Indonesia, requesting that all legal recourse should be exhausted before the death penalty is carried out.
HT’s conversation with Gurdip’s wife
Family heaves sigh of relief
It was a roller-coaster between grief and joy for the family that lives in Nakodar town, 28 km from Jalandhar.
Kulwinder spent the night mourning after an Indian embassy official reportedly called the family with the news of Singh’s execution.
Singh’s sister Bhinder Kaur told HT that she got the call from the embassy confirming that he was executed by a firing squad. The embassy official also said that his body will reach his house at Nakodar near Jalandhar in 23 hours.
“The official misinformed us. We have still not got a call from the embassy,” Kulwinder said.
Kaur said Singh wanted to go to New Zealand in 2002 to seek employment as a driver but got stuck in Indonesia “as his agent cheated him”. Singh was arrested in 2004 as the agent, who belongs to Uttar Pradesh, did not give him his passport and then “made him do the crime”. She also blamed an unnamed “Pakistani agent” for his imprisonment.
Singh had called his family on Thursday morning saying that was his last call to them.