India hopeful of clemency to Sarabjit, but no prisoner exchange

March 20th, 2008 - 9:21 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf

Islamabad/New Delhi, March 20 (IANS) A day after Pakistan deferred the execution of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian prisoner on death row, India Thursday hoped he would be granted clemency but made it clear that no Pakistani prisoner would be released in exchange. “We have appealed to the Pakistani government and we hope that Pakistan will hear our appeal. Nobody will be released in exchange,” Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal made it clear in New Delhi.

Jaiswal said this in the context of speculation that Pakistan may bargain for the release of its prisoners in exchange for clemency to Sarabjit Singh.

“The government of India continues to hope that Sarabjit Singh will be granted clemency on humanitarian grounds,” said a statement issued by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.

“The reprieve now allows time for the appeals for clemency to be given proper consideration from all angles, including by the new government expected to take office in Pakistan soon,” it said.

The Indian government was “pleased to learn that Sarabjit Singh’s execution has been stayed”, the statement said.

“The news was received with appreciation in the Indian parliament yesterday. Sarabjit Singh’s family has also expressed its gratitude for all the support received for Sarabjit Singh’s cause,” it said.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf Wednesday deferred the hanging of Sarabjit, scheduled for April 1, by a month after an appeal for clemency from the Indian government and the family of the condemned man who has been convicted of his alleged involvement in four bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan in 1991 that killed 14 people.

Sarabjit Singh’s family has vehemently denied he is a spy and insists he strayed into Pakistani territory by mistake.

The delay in his execution coincided with the release by India of Pakistani national Jamal Qureshi, who was arrested over two years ago on charges of spying and possessing fake Indian currency.

A decision on Sarabjit Singh’s execution is likely to be taken after the new government is formed in Pakistan. India is hoping the new Pakistani government’s positive attitude towards resuming the peace process with New Delhi could help in Sarabjit Singh’s case, official sources said in New Delhi.

Amid a massive outpouring of sympathy in India for Sarabjit Singh, the Indian government has activated back channel diplomacy to persuade the Pakistani government to grant him clemency on humanitarian grounds.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Wednesday told the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, that the government was “continuing its efforts to secure the life of Sarabjit Singh.”

He, however, described the staying of execution as a “partial success”, and assured the house the government would take every step to save Sarabjit Singh.

Human rights groups and activists in Pakistan are also advocating clemency for Sarabjit Singh.

Pakistan should let Sarabjit Singh return home, prominent Pakistani rights activist Asma Jehangir, who is also a UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, said in New Delhi Thursday.

“India and Pakistan should return each other’s prisoners held in their respective countries and keep politics out of it. Sarabjit Singh, for one, should be returned to India,” Jehangir, who has come to India on an invitation of the Indian government, told reporters.

Sarabjit Singh’s sister Dalbir Kaur has sent an appeal for clemency directly to Musharraf and requested him to allow her to visit Pakistan to meet her brother in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.

Musharraf March 3 rejected the mercy petition of Sarabjit Singh, who Pakistan claims is Indian spy Manjit Singh. Pakistan’s Supreme Court had rejected his plea for clemency in March 2006.

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