Hope for Sarabjit, Pakistan may grant clemency

March 18th, 2008 - 11:42 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
(Intro Roundup)

Islamabad/New Delhi, March 18 (IANS) Some hope lurked for Sarabjit Singh, an Indian facing death penalty in Pakistan. A Pakistani minister Tuesday indicated “chances of clemency” for him, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he has taken up his case at the “highest level” in Islamabad. “There are chances of clemency for him. If President Prevez Musharraf receives a mercy plea from Singh’s family, he has the right to forgive him,” DPA quoted Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney as saying.

Sarabjit Singh’s sister Dalbir Kaur approached Burney by telephone requesting forgiveness.

Under Article 45 of the Pakistani Constitution, the president has the right to forgive any prisoner or grant mercy to any condemned prisoner, Burney added, pledging that he would recommend Musharraf to commute the death penalty to a life sentence.

In New Delhi, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told both houses of the Indian parliament that the government has made another appeal to Pakistan to grant clemency to Sarabjit Singh on “humanitarian grounds”.

Mukherjee said Pakistan has been urged to “take a sympathetic and humanitarian view of this case”.

Interceding on similar lines, Manmohan Singh told Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal that his government was making all possible efforts to seek a reprieve for the prisoner.

In an obvious reference to President Musharraf, the prime minister said he had taken up the matter at the “highest level” in Pakistan.

The Pakistan Supreme Court upheld the capital sentence awarded to the Indian in 2006 on charges of committing terrorist acts in Pakistan. His family denies the charges levelled against him.

Mukherjee pointed out that both countries have put in place institutional arrangements to better the situation of prisoners.

These have included the setting up of a joint judicial committee and the visit of an Indian delegation to Pakistan last year in search of missing Indian defence personnel.

“It is in this context and in the same spirit that we appeal to the government of Pakistan to treat Sarabjit Singh’s case on humanitarian grounds,” Mukherjee said.

Dalbir Kaur and other family members have been meeting Indian leaders, lobbying for high-level intervention.

She met Congress president and chairperson of United Progressive Alliance Sonia Gandhi, Mukherjee and Railway Minister Lalu Prasad.

“She (Sonia Gandhi) told me that she will put forward my appeal to the government,” Dalbir Kaur told IANS.

Mukherjee told Dalbir Kaur at his South Block office that all the political parties were united in supporting the clemency plea, she said.

“He (Mukherjee) said the government was doing its job and the entire country and all the political parties were behind us,” she said.

A distressed Dalbir Kaur also handed over a petition to the Pakistan high commission here and faxed a copy to the office of Musharraf saying Sarabjit Singh was innocent and sought permission for his family to see him in Pakistan.

“We are now praying to god for a miracle and hope there is mercy in the heart of Persident Musharraf,” she said.

The Indian mission in Islamabad said in a statement: “It is hoped that appeals from Sarabjit Singh’s family, the government of India and others would be given a chance to be considered from all angles, including by the new government expected to take office in Pakistan soon.”

The statement added that news about Sarabjit Singh’s imminent hanging had been met “with dismay in India”.

It added that the impression in the Pakistani media that Islamabad’s “sudden decision” to hang Sarabjit Singh was in retaliation for the death of a Pakistani prisoner in India, Khalid Mehmood, had been noted.

“Such impressions will impinge on the positive atmosphere currently existing among India and Pakistan,” said the statement.

Sarbajit Singh was arrested in 1990 from near the international border and charged with spying as well as carrying out four bombings that killed 14 people and injured dozens more in Lahore and Faisalabad.

His 1991 death sentence was upheld by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 2006.

Sarabjit Singh, who has denied the charges, pleaded clemency but Musharraf rejected his petition.

Hopes for his release were raised earlier this month when Musharraf pardoned another alleged Indian spy, Kashmir Singh, who was allowed to return home March 4 after spending 35 years in Pakistani prisons.

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