Pakistani Supreme Court rejects Sarabjit’s plea, India urges ’sympathetic’ view (Roundup)

June 24th, 2009 - 10:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Yousuf Raza Gilani Islamabad/New Delhi/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 the court despite being specifically directed to do so. India hoped Pakistan would take a “sympathetic and humanitarian” view of the case.
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 in the current uncertain state of Pakistan-India ties, it would be hard to predict how Zardari 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.

In New Delhi, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna acknowledged that the prisoner’s fate had touched a nerve in India. “Sarabjit Singh’s case has touched sentiments of many people in India who have been following this case,” he told reporters.

Krishna said India has appealed - and will continue to appeal - to Pakistan to remove Sarabjit Singh from death row.

“We have consistently urged the government of Pakistan to take a sympathetic and humanitarian view in this case. It is our hope that they will find it possible to do so,” he added.

After the Pakistani Supreme Court delivered its verdict, it became evident that there had been a miscarriage of justice.

The lawyer who was to defend him said he could not do so as he had been appointed a law officer in Punjab province. He said he had asked a colleague to appear on his behalf but he failed to so.

In Bhikiwind, Sarabjit’s wife alleged that the Pakistani lawyer had demanded “lakhs of rupees” and failed to appear as the family could not pay up.

The Pakistan Supreme Court 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 high-security 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 in Islamabad: “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.”

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 village 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 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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