Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered that Indian national Sarabjit Singh’s death penalty be converted into life imprisonment. Singh will walk free soon because he has already done his time in Pakistani jails for the sentence.
Pakistani officials on Tuesday said the release of Pakistani virologist Khalil Chishty by India in May prompted Pakistan to return the favour by releasing 49-year-old Singh.
Chishty spent 20 years in Ajmer jail for alleged murder of an Indian man.
A Pakistani TV channel reported that Zardari had ordered his immediate release. The Indian High Commission refused to comment on the news.
Singh was sentenced to death for his alleged involvement in a string of bombings in Pakistan’s Punjab in 1990. After his release, the Indian High Commission would first put him through a medical check-up and then arrange his return.
On May 29, Singh filed his fifth clemency appeal to Zardari. Signed by 100,000 Indians, the petition urged Zardari to reciprocate the release of Dr Chishty by the Indian government. Dr Chishty has joined his family in Karachi.
The prime mover in Sarabjit’s case is believed to be Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik. “Pardon for Sarabjit was followed through by the Pakistani side. In private, they accept there was some understanding," said Pakistani journalist Shamimur Rehman.
Pak officials had spoken to Singh’s sister and sought details of his village, Indian government sources said.
Attached with Sarabjit's May petition were two letters addressed to the President from chief cleric of Delhi’s Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari and caretaker of Ajmer Sharif Syed Muhammad Yamin Hashmi. In the petition, Singh submitted that Dr Chishty’s release "has rekindled hope for me".
Singh maintained that his was a case of mistaken identity, since even the FIR was not registered in his name. “I have spent 22 years in the prison for a crime I have not committed,” he asserted in his petition.
The FIR had named Manjeet Singh for carrying out four bomb blasts in different cities of Punjab, according to the petition. Sarabjeet’s counsel Awais Sheikh maintained that he had documentary proof that his client was in India at the time of bombings.
“Manjeet Singh was indeed a terrorist but the authorities have mistaken Sarabjit for Manjeet,” he said.
On August 15, 1991, a Pakistani court had awarded the death sentence. In Lahore, prison authorities said on Tuesday evening they had not received any intimation in this regard.
(With inputs from Jayanth Jacob in Delhi)