Surjeet is home, after 30 years in Pakistan prison (Lead)

June 28th, 2012 - 2:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Attari (Punjab), June 28 (IANS) After 30 years of incarceration in Pakistan on charges of being a spy, Surjeet Singh returned home Thursday to a tumultuous and teary welcome from family and friends.

Held in Pakistan on spying charges in the early 1980s, Surjeet, 69, was released from Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail early Thursday and made the road journey to Wagah, on the Pakistan side of the border, before entering his homeland.

Smiling and waving to family members, friends and supporters, Surjeet thanked Pakistani border officials as he walked across the zero line at the international border.

He was garlanded and hugged by family members and fellow villagers from Phidde in Ferozepur district. Dozens of camera crews and media persons jostled with each other to capture the moment.

“I am very happy to return after 30 years and meeting my children and family,” Surjeet said.

“Indian prisoners are treated well in Pakistan jails. Sarabjit Singh is also doing well there. He has sent no message with me. Leave it to me, I will get him released… Please don’t ask anything more,” Surjeet told reporters here, referring to Sarabjit Singh, also from Punjab who has been in Kot Lakhpat jail.

Dressed in a white kurta-pyjama and black turban and carrying two bags, Surjeet was brought to the Wagah border on the Pakistan side in a prison van.

Though he had been freed, his left hand was in handcuffs. The accompanying policemen got down with him but did not open the handcuffs.

He smiled and hugged his lawyer. Once the formalities were completed, he crossed to the Attari side of the joint border checkpost, about 30 km from Amritsar, where his family and friends waited excitedly to meet him.

His son Kulwinder, holding a box of sweets, couldn’t hold back his tears. The family had given up hope of seeing him again, presuming him to be dead after he went missing near the border in Ferozepur sector in 1982.

“I was only two-three years old when he went missing. This is the biggest day of my life,” said Kulwinder, with his mother Harbans Kaur next to him.

“We are very happy that he is being finally released. We will have big celebrations,” said Kulwinder, who arrived here Thursday morning with family members, relatives and villagers.

Indian border officials took Surjeet, who had spent 30 years in Pakistani jails on charges of spying, into a room for a briefing. Surjeet completed his life term in 2005.

“We are all very eager to receive him. We will make him very comfortable here,” Surjeet’s daughter-in-law said in his village.

From Attari, his family members took Surjeet to Amritsar to offer prayers at the holiest of Sikh shrines, Harmandar Sahib (popularly known as Golden Temple).

Pakistan authorities are also likely to allow nearly 300 Indian fishermen to walk back to India after their release from Karachi prison Wednesday. Most of the fishermen are from Gujarat.

They were in Pakistani custody for periods ranging from a few months to three years after they were accused of violating Pakistan’s territorial water off the coast of Gujarat.

Surjeet’s release came in the midst of the controversy and flip-flop over the release of Sarabjit Singh.

The Pakistan side had Tuesday evening announced that Sarabjit, who is facing death penalty on terrorism charges, would be released after his death sentence was commuted by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

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