India presses for Sarabjit’s release, awaits confirmation (Lead)

June 27th, 2012 - 1:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Benazir Bhutto New Delhi, June 27 (IANS) India Wednesday renewed its request to Pakistan to release death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh after a midnight volte-face by Islamabad and said it was awaiting official communication from the Pakistan government and a report from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad on this issue.

“I have seen media reports about the impending release from imprisonment in Pakistan of Surjeet Singh…I welcome this decision and further renew our request to the president of Pakistan to release Sarabjit Singh who has been in custody for over two decades. He is serving a death sentence,” External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told reporters here.

Krishna’s statement came after Pakistan’s apparent volte-face about releasing Sarabjit Singh Tuesday night. On June 26, the Pakistani media had carried reports of Sarabjit getting a presidential pardon. However, Islamabad clarified late evening that it was not Sarabjit but Surjeet Singh, his fellow inmate at Kot Lakhpat jail, who would be released.

Admitting confusion over the issue, Krishna said he has also seen media reports and stressed that there is no absolutely no official communication from Pakistan on reports of Sarabjit Singh’s release.

Krishna, however, renewed request to the Pakistan government to take a lenient and humanitarian view and release Sarabjit Singh, who has been in custody for over two decades and is serving a death sentence for his alleged involvement in a string of blasts in the Punjab province in 1990.

“As you are aware that government of India has consistently urged the government of Pakistan on several occasions to take a sympathetic and humanitarian view on the case of Sarabjit Singh,” said Krishna.

“I also appeal to the government of Pakistan to release all Indian nationals who have completed their prison term. I request the release of all Indians who are serving jail sentences in Pakistani prisons,” he added.

Pakistan claims that Sarabjit Singh, who is known as Manjit Singh there, was involved in staging four blasts in Lahore and Multan in 1990, which claimed 14 lives. His family however, maintains that Sarabjit, a resident of border town of Bhikhiwind, had strayed across the border in an inebriated state in August 1990.

Surjeet has been in Pakistani custody for over 30 years. He was captured near the India-Pakistan border on charges of spying during the era of military ruler Zia-ul-Haq and was on death-row too, but his sentence was commuted to life-imprisonment in 1989.

“I think there is some confusion. First, it is not a case of pardon. More importantly, it is not Sarabjit. It is Surjeet Singh, son of Sucha Singh. His death sentence was commuted in 1989 by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on the advice of then prime minister Benazir Bhutto,” presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar was quoted as saying by Geo News.

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