A key witness in the case of Sarabjit Singh, sentenced to death in Pakistan for allegedly carrying out four bomb attacks in 1990, has said that he was forced to testify against the Indian national under duress.
The witness, Shaukat Salim, said he had no option but to testify in court against Sarabjit even though he had never seen him and did not believe he was involved in the attacks.
"Neither have I seen him (Sarabjit) and nor do I believe (he carried out the attacks). The Pakistani (security agencies) caught someone and they said he is the one who carried out the attacks," Salim, a resident of Lahore, told an Indian TV news channel on Sunday.
"Even powerful people are afraid of the police. The government lawyer told me that this is the man who carried out the blasts and he is the guilty. The lawyer told me this is what I had to testify, and that's what I did," he said.
Salim, whose father and other relatives were killed in one of the blasts, said when he was taken to the court, he told the judge that Sarabjit was the person who had carried out the blasts. "The judge heard me and let me go," he said.
Asked if the government lawyer had tutored his testimony, Salim said, "Yes, he told me this is how you have to testify. He told me that you have to say 'this is the guilty person and carried out the explosions, and that I had seen him (carrying out the attacks)'."
When Salim testified in court, Sarabjit had asked him to speak after placing his hand on the Quran. "He told me to put my hand on the Quran and say that I had seen him (carrying out the attacks).
"However, I testified against him and he kept looking at me. What else could I have done because (the police) had taken me and told me to be a witness?"
The execution of Sarabjit - sentenced to death for alleged involvement in the bomb attacks in Punjab province that killed 14 people - was deferred for 30 days last month by President Pervez Musharraf so that Pakistan's new government could review his case following an appeal for clemency from the Indian government.
Sarabjit was originally set to be hanged on April 1.
The issue of Salim being forced to testify has also been raised by leading Pakistani rights activist Ansar Burney in a mercy petition he submitted on behalf of Sarabjit to President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani.
Noting that Sarabjit had been in jail for over 15 years, Salim said he should be forgiven. "Any person would say that we should forgive someone who has spent so many years in jail. Irrespective of whether Sarabjit is guilty or not, it would be better to forgive him," he said.
Salim's comments in the interview to the Indian TV channel mark a turnaround from his recent statements in protests organised in Lahore by hardline groups. During these protests, he told Pakistani TV channels that he was unwilling to forgive Sarabjit. He also said that the death sentence awarded to Sarabjit should be carried out.
Pakistan's Supreme Court rejected Sarabjit's mercy petition in March 2006 and upheld his death sentence. Musharraf too rejected his appeal for clemency in March.