The possible release of Sarabjit Singh could come later this year as part of a general amnesty that the president will announce for death row prisoners ahead of the general elections, Siraj Uddin, a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said on Friday.
There are more than 200 prisoners on death row in Pakistan whose executions are not being carried out because the ruling party is against capital punishment. “There is an expectation that these prisoners will have their terms commuted to life,” added the official.
Lawyers, civil rights groups, journalists and labour unions have all appealed that capital punishment be abolised in Pakistan. “If the president commutes the sentence of Sarabjit Singh, this automatically qualifies him for release,” said retired judge Nasir Aslam Zahid.
However, there is opposition to this move on grounds that Sarabjit Singh was responsible for the deaths of several people in a bomb blast, a charge that he continues to deny. Sarabjit Singh, now 49, maintains that his was a case of mistaken identity, since even the FIR was not registered in his name.
“I have spent 22 years in prison for a crime I have not committed,” asserts Singh in his petition.
It is this point that his lawyer, Owais Shaikh, continues to argue at every panel. On these grounds, in May 2012, Sarabjit Singh filed his fifth clemency appeal to President Asif Ali Zardari. Sarabjit’s petition, signed by 100,000 Indians, urged President Zardari to reciprocate the release of Pakistani virologist Dr Khalil Chishty by the Indian government.
Moreover, Friday’s revelation by Surjeet Singh, who was released from Pakistani prison this week, that Sarabjit has converted to Islam will also go a long way in appeasing his detractors, say commentators.