Sarabjeet Singh: The case of mistaken Identity, must not be hanged

PAKISTAN SUPREME COURT has rejected the mercy plea of the Indian prisoner, accused of Lahore bombing in 1990. Sarabjeet’s news is often in the news and that made me curios to know more about the case. I was doing a fair bit of reading on the same. Yesterday, a news channel has also started a campaign to save Sarabjeet. The family of Sarabjeet is toiling hard for the last 18 years.

What I have got to read from various sources creates an impression that Sarabjeet is being punished for the crime, which he never committed. Sarabjeet is accused for espionage and is labeled as the man behind the Lahaore Bomb blasts in 1990. He was awarded death sentence by a Lahore anti-terrorism court in October 1991, for allegedly carrying out serial bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan in Pakistan. But this case is definitely of mistaken identity. Pakistani security agencies say that he is Manjit Singh who is sought for the bomb blast case. But the fact is that Sarabjeet is a resident of Bhikhiwind, a border village in India’s Amritsar district, strayed into Pakistan territory in an inebriated state. Even the officals in Paksitan also claim the same.

Writing in Pakistan’s The News in an opinion piece titled ‘Why Sarabjeet Singh must not be hanged’ (some years back), Senator Farhatullah Babar of the Pakistan People’s Party has linked Sarabjeet’s case to that of Alfred Dreyfus — a Jewish captain in the French Army who was banished in 1894, after being accused of being a spy but was allowed to return home in 1906 when the charge was found to be untrue. “We may have serious differences with the Indians but it must not persuade us to hang every Indian at the drop of a hat. Sarabjeet Singh’s trial must not be allowed to become our national embarrassment as was the Dreyfus trial in France. He must not be hanged,” Babar, a close aide of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said.

The key witness of this case, Salim Shaukat also said in an interview that he was forced to identify Sarabjeet as perpetrator. Rediff carried his interview and he said, “I was told by the (prosecution) lawyer that I should identify Sarabjeet as the main accused in the serial blasts and I did it,” said Salim Shaukat, cited as the main witness in the Lahore bombing, in which his father was killed. He admitted that he had not seen the accused as he had fainted during the blast. Acknowledging that he was forced to give such a testimony, he told Indian TV channels, Star News and Aaj Tak, from Lahore that “I am not sure if he is responsible for the blasts…. I was asked to say that I had seen him. But I had not seen him as I had fainted at the time of the incident. The moment I identified him as the accused, Sarabjeet asked me to swear by the Quran but I declined to do so. Sarabjeet kept looking at me after my statement but I was helpless as I was under the influence of law enforcement agencies,” Salim said in reply to questions.

Pakistan’s leading human rights activist Ansar Burney is also of the view that hanging Sarabjeet Singh would be tantamount to murder of humanity as the Indian national had been convicted without any substantial evidence. “I cannot allow the government to hang Sarabjeet Singh on the basis that he is a non-Muslim and non-Pakistani and because of pressure from extremist fundamentalist groups,” he said.

There is no doubt that Sarabjeet’s case had become a matter of prestige for the law-enforcement authorities in Pakistan. They have cooked up spying charges against him and produced false witness to ensure his conviction. There is also pressure from extremists also. Sometime back Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the parent wing of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, has come out against any move to free death row prisoner and Indian national Sarabjeet Singh.

In a statement posted on the Jamaat website, Saeed said, freeing Sarabjeet would be equivalent to ‘ridiculing’ the country’s courts.

Ansar Burney is going to file the petition again for acquittal of Sarabjeet Singh. It is extremely disappointing that his petition as dismissed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan because the counselor of Sarabjeet failed to turn up for the hearing. Rana Abdul Hamid, the lawyer who was representing Sarabjeet, had been unable to appear in court after he was appointed last year an additional advocate general by Punjab province. The family of Sarabjeet is running from pillars to post to get him freed. It is of vital importance that the government of India urges Pakistan to set free the innocent man who has already served over 18 years in Kot Lakhpat Jail of Lahore. This case of Sarabjeet is now a national case and we must urge the government to pursue for immediate release of Sarabjeet. We must also support Pakistan Human Rights Activist Ansar Burney in his battle to secure freedom for Sarabjeet.

References for this post has been taken from REDIFF

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