Sarabjit Singh was killed by religious fanatics: Awais Sheikh
I met Sarabjit last in February this year, the day Afzal Guru was hanged in India. He appeared visibly worried, said Awais Sheikh, counsel for Sarabjit Singh in Pakistan in an interview with HT. Puja Changoiwala reports.india Updated: May 03, 2013 23:05 IST
When was the last time you met Sarabjit? Did he complain of any threats?
I met Sarabjit last in February this year, the day Afzal Guru was hanged in India. He appeared visibly worried. Usually when I used to meet him once a month, as per the court’s directions, I was always accompanied by the jail superintendent, a member of the state’s anti-terrorist squad and one from the intelligence unit. Sarabjit told the intelligence unit member that he had been receiving threats from his inmates who had told him that they would not let him live under any circumstances. I had brought that to the notice of the jail authorities and the jail administration was aware of the fact that there was a threat to his life.
Who do you think killed Sarabjit?
Religious fanatics. People who are averse to peace between India and Pakistan.
Do you think that the Indian government was putting enough diplomatic pressure on the Pakistani authorities for Sarabjit’s release?
There was a lot of campaign in India for Sarabjit and people were putting in a lot of efforts to ensure his release. During my two visits to India in the past four years, I was handed over mercy petitions signed by 100,000 Indians appealing President Asif Ali Zardari to release Sarabjit. But I believe that the Indian government needed to put more pressure on its Pakistani counterparts for Sarabjit’s release or at least to have his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
As per your arguments in the case, Sarabjit’s arrest and conviction in the 1990 Lahore blasts was a case of mistaken identity and that a certain Manjeet Singh was the actual perpetrator. Where is Manjeet Singh?
Manjeet Singh is an Indian by origin, a Sikh. He came to Pakistan in 1990 when the Khalistan movement was at its peak. He married a Muslim girl here and converted to Islam. After he realized that Sarabjit had been arrested instead of him despite his name in the FIR concerning the Lahore blasts, he escaped to Canada. After spending about six months in Canada, he was convicted there in a murder case and spent three years in prison. Since then, he was moving between several countries and was also deported from USA once. Around three years back, he returned to India and was arrested in a cheating case. That is when I had approached the Pakistani Supreme Court to re-open Sarabjit’s case as the actual perpetrator was placed under arrest in India. However, the court rejected my appeal.
If Sarabjit was not the actual perpetrator and simply strayed into Pakistan in a drunken condition in August 1990, why was he languishing in a Pakistani prison for over two decades?
Although Sarabjit’s case is unique, there are thousands of such people languishing in Pakistani as well as Indian jails. They may not be members of intelligence units, terrorists or criminals, but they are victims of the politics between India and Pakistan. The political feud between these two countries has led to several innocents being charged with spurious crimes, imprisonment of several guiltless people. Besides, I think that the Supreme Court here should have allowed a review of the case. If there was evidence against the actual perpetrator, there was no reason for Sarabjit to be confined to the prison.
In his last days, was Sarabjit hopeful about seeing his release?
Sarabjit was a very hopeful person. He was certain that he would be released. The India-Pakistan Judicial Commission had met Sarabjit a few days before he passed away. Especially after meeting them, Sarabjit was extremely optimistic about returning home. I believe that he had communicated this feeling to a few inmates that eventually led to his death. Sarabjit died in the hope to live.