No fresh decision on Sarabjit, says Pakistan

June 21st, 2008 - 9:35 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Benazir Bhutto
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, June 21 (IANS) Amid renewed hopes of reprieve for Sarabjit Singh on late Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s birth anniversary Saturday, an interior ministry official said there was no decision yet on the Indian prisoner on death row. “No decision has yet been taken on the several petitions filed to President Pervez Musharraf for mercy to Sarabjit Singh,” the official told IANS.

Singh’s sister Jagir Kaur, Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney and some others have filed mercy petitions with the president to convert his death sentence into life imprisonment.

Singh was sentenced to death for his alleged involvement in bomb blasts in Pakistan nearly two decades ago. Singh himself filed a mercy petition with the president which was rejected. However, the president stayed his death sentence until further orders.

On Saturday, the 55th birth anniversary of Bhutto, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani in the National Assembly or the lower house of parliament announced conversion of death sentence of prisoners in Pakistan to life imprisonment, barring those prisoners who were involved in terrorism and other heinous crimes.

The announcement led to fresh hopes for Singh.

“I think this created confusion that Sarabjit’s death sentence has been suspended … He was involved in terrorism and was given death sentence for his crime to plant bombs and he cannot be included among those whose death sentences have been converted into life imprisonment,” the interior ministry official said.

Asked how many prisoners on death row will benefit from this, the official said he was not sure. “I believe all the prisoners given death sentence had been involved either in terrorism or murder which is a heinous crime. So there may not be even a single person who could benefit from this,” he commented.

Earlier in the day, several TV channels, especially in India, said Singh might be set free after Gillani’s announcement as he had already completed term equal to life imprisonment.

“This is not an ordinary case … I believe he is innocent and there may be an error of judgement,” Burney told IANS.

He, however, added that media misjudged the announcement made by the prime minister.

He said he had sent a letter to the president, prime minister and Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar to convert death sentence of all prisoners to life imprisonment but no decision was yet taken.

Last month Gillani had said that he would recommend to the presidency to change Singh’s death sentence into life imprisonment but there was no progress afterwards.

According to sources, senior officials in the establishment have objected to setting Singh free as they think it will encourage terrorism and will set a “wrong precedent”.

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