Pakistan Supreme Court dismisses Indian prisoner Sarabjit’s mercy plea (Lead)

June 24th, 2009 - 6:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Yousuf Raza Gilani Islamabad/Chandigarh, June 24 (IANS) Pakistan’s Supreme Court Wednesday rejected the mercy petition of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh, who has been on death row for 18 years, after his lawyer failed to appear in court despite being specifically directed to do so.
Sarabjit has been convicted of staging four bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan in 1990 that claimed 14 lives. His only option now would be to file a mercy plea before President Asif Ali Zardari, but given the current uncertain state of Pakistan-India ties, it would be hard to predict how he would react.

The court verdict, delivered by a three-judge bench headed by Justice Raja Fayyaz, left Sarabjit’s family in Bhikiwind village in Indian Punjab distraught and they demanded that the Indian government intervene to save his life.

The Pakistan Supreme Court had Monday adjourned till Wednesday the hearing in Sarabjit’s plea against the death sentence handed to him in 1991. The court had also served notice on his lawyer to appear in court Wednesday.

Sarabjit’s family contests the death sentence, saying he had strayed into Pakistan in a drunken state in 1990 and had nothing to do with the blasts.

On March 9, 2006, a two-member Supreme Court bench had dismissed Sarabjit’s petition against the sentence.

Sarabjit, who is lodged in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail, was to have been hanged April 1, 2008 but the authorities put this off after newly-installed Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sought to examine the issue.

Approached for his comments soon after the Supreme Court delivered its verdict, presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said: “Right now I would not like to comment about this. We will review the case and we need time to study the developments. At this point of time I would not like to say anything about this case.”

Senior Pakistan journalist Imtiaz Gul told the Times Now TV news channel that Zardari’s next move could be speculated upon.

The issue would need to be dealt with carefully, considering that the subcontinental dialogue has been frozen in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks that India has blamed on elements operating from this country, he added.

“We were given to understand that the lawyer did not appear during the court proceedings today, which is why the court dismissed the mercy plea petition. At this moment it is difficult to say whether the lawyer was under any pressure because the case involves the life and death of a person,” Gul maintained.

“I think a presidential pardon remains the last option for Sarabjit and I am sure Zardari would exercise this right under the constitution of Pakistan. One would hope that the Pakistani president takes some action in this kind of case considering the kind of reactions the execution might trigger back in India,” Gul added.

Sarabjit’s daughter Poonam said the court verdict had “shocked” her.

“We are shocked that this has happened. We never expected that his petition would be rejected on technical grounds because his lawyer did not appear,” Poonam said in the border town of Bhikiwind, 275 km from Punjab capital Chandigarh.

She added that the lawyer earlier representing Sarabjit Singh had recently told the family that he had become a government lawyer and could no longer appear for him.

“He assigned the case to another lawyer but the second one also did not appear before the court leading to rejection of his plea. The Indian government must intervene to save my father,” Poonam added.

His family was given Pakistani visas April last year to visit him in prison in Lahore. The family, including his wife, sister and two daughters, met him there after 18 years.

When he was arrested in 1990, one of his daughters was a toddler while the second one was born later.

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