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India seeks clemency for Sarabjit

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the Govt has taken up Sarabjit’s case with the Pakistan Govt at the highest levels, reports Saroj Nagi.
PTI | By Saroj Nagi, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 19, 2008 02:27 PM IST

In what could be a final push to attempts to save Sarabjit Singh from the noose in Pakistan, India on Tuesday appealed to Islamabad to show mercy and halt his execution.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the government has taken up Sarabjit’s case with the Pakistan government at the highest levels. Singh made the assurance while replying to a letter from Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, PM’s media advisor Sanjaya Baru said in a statement.

Sarabjit has been charged in Pakistan for involvement in the 1990 bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan in which over a dozen people were killed. He is to be hanged on April 1 in Lahore, Pakistani officials said after all his petitions were turned down.

In Islamabad, Pakistani officials confirmed the appeal from Delhi. “The Indian government has formally approached us regarding clemency for Sarabjit Singh and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is bringing the request to the notice of the concerned authorities of the Pakistan government,” Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq was quoted by PTI as saying.

Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney, who played a key role in the recent release of another Indian prisoner Kashmir Singh, did not rule out commuting Sarabjit’s death sentence to life imprisonment.

"Since he spent 18 years in jail, the President may consider converting his death sentence to life imprisonment," Burney told reporters. "If there is an appeal for clemency for Sarabjit Singh, I will forward it to the President and other authorities."

In Delhi, the call for mercy to Sarabjit echoed in Parliament. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, through a suo motu statement in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, appealed to Pakistan to show "clemency on humanitarian grounds". Members in the Lok Sabha, cutting across party lines, mounted pressure on the Centre to intercede on Sarabjit's behalf. They even demanded a House resolution in this regard -- which was ruled out by Parliamentary Affairs Minister PR Dasmunsi.

Sarabjit's teenaged daughter Swapandeep made an emotional appeal for her father's release in Bhikhiwind in Punjab. She said her father was innocent and that his was a case of "mistaken identity". Sarabjit's sister Dalbir Kaur met Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Mukherjee and Railways Minister Lalu Prasad. She submitted a clemency petition in the Pakistan High Commission, requesting President Pervez Musharraf to pardon her brother.

Mukherjee told both Houses of Parliament that the government had no formal intimation from Pakistan about the rejection of Sarabjit's mercy petition. The matter of his "death warrant" had come to notice through media reports, he said, adding: "Our High Commission in Islamabad has sought details from the Government of Pakistan."

Retracing the sequence of events, Mukherjee said that ever since the Pakistan Supreme Court upheld Sarabjit's death sentence in August 2005, the government has continued to urge Islamabad to take a "sympathetic and humanitarian" view of the case. At the government's instance, consular access was provided to Sarabjit in that very month.

Deputy Speaker CS Atwal summed up the sentiment of MPs by urging the government "to do something". During Zero Hour, Akali Dal's SS Dhindsa warned that Sarabjit's hanging would widen the gap between the two countries.

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