Sarabjit’s family shattered by Pakistan’s ‘cruel joke’ (Lead)

June 27th, 2012 - 5:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Benazir Bhutto Jalandhar, June 27 (IANS) From jubilation to outrage and tears. Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh’s family said Wednesday they felt cheated by the cavalier manner in which the Pakistan government did a flip-flop on the commutation of his death sentence and release.

The celebrations in Bhikhiwind village quickly turned to shock and despair as news came in early Wednesday of the apparent volte-face on the pardon and release of Sarabjit Singh, who is on death row in Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore after being convicted for terrorism.

Family members and friends, who had only hours earlier distributed sweets, were stunned at the sudden turn of events.

Hours after first reports that Pakistan was to free Sarabjit Singh, Islamabad late Tuesday clarified that not Sarabjit but another Indian prisoner named Surjeet Singh, who has been in jail for three decades, would be released.

“We are shocked by this. We are disappointed and shattered. But we will not give up hope on getting Sarabjit released. We will continue to fight for him. By doing this, Pakistan is playing with our sentiments,” Sarabjit’s elder sister Dalbir Kaur said in Jalandhar.

Dalbir Kaur, who has been single-handedly spearheading the campaign with authorities in Pakistan and India to seek his release, said the turn of events in the past few hours was a “cruel joke” on the family.

“I don’t understand why and how this has happened. It is terrible for us. But we will not give up our fight. We have been deeply hurt by this,” Dalbir Kaur, who is staying here with relatives, said.

“We feel cheated by this. It is a cruel joke on the family and millions of people who were praying for Sarabjit’s release. We appeal to the Pakistani and Indian governments to work out his release.”

In their village Bhikhiwind, along the India-Pakistan international border about 280 km from the state capital Chandigarh, people gathered at Sarabjit’s family home to sympathise with them. Family members and residents who had burst firecrackers Tuesday evening were reeling from the shock.

“We still have faith that he will be released. We feel cheated by this turn of events,” Poonam, Sarabjit’s younger daughter, said in Bhikhiwind, about 130 km from here. Sarabjit’s wife Sukhpreet also lives in the village.

Hours after first reports came in that Pakistan was to free Sarabjit Singh, Islamabad late Tuesday clarified that not Satrabjit Singh but another Indian prisoner named Surjeet Singh, who has been in jail for three decades, would be released instead.

The clarification came about 1 a.m. with President Asif Ali Zardari’s spokesperson saying that Surjeet Singh would be released instead of Sarabjit.

“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.

Law Minister Farooq Naek Tuesday conveyed to the interior ministry that Surjeet Singh had completed his life term in jail and ought to be released and sent back to India, Babar said.

Earlier in the day, media reports said Zardari had converted Sarabjit Singh’s death sentence to life imprisonment and directed authorities to release him if he had completed his prison term.

Sarabjit Singh’s family claim that he had crossed into Pakistan inadvertently in August 1990 in an inebriated state and was arrested there.

But Pakistani police say Sarabjit Singh, who is known as Manjit Singh there, was involved in acts of terrorism. Sarabjit has been languishing in Pakistani jails since then.

He was convicted of staging four bombings in Lahore and Multan in 1990 that killed at least 14 people.

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