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Sarabjit case: India rules out prisoner exchange
Tripti Nath
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 20
India has ruled out release of any Pakistani prisoner in exchange for Indian national Sarabjit Singh who is placed on the death row for his alleged involvement in bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan in 1990.

Sarabjit Singh, who has been languishing in Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore for 17 years, got a reprieve yesterday after President Pervez Musharraf stayed his execution by a month.

Musharraf, who had sealed Sarabjit's fate a fortnight back by rejecting his mercy petition, has raised the hopes of the prisoner's family, by softening his stand. According to the death warrant received by authorities in Kot Lakhpat jail, Sarabjit was to be hanged on April 1.

Minister of state for home affairs Sriprakash Jaiswal today said, “We have appealed to the Pakistani government and we hope that Pakistan will listen to our appeal. Nobody will be released in exchange,” Jaiswal said when asked by mediapersons if there was any move for swapping prisoners. He said that if any Pakistani prisoner can be lawfully set free, it will be done.

The demand for exchange of Indian and Pakistani prisoners was made by SAD MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa who raised the issue in the Lok Sabha earlier this week.

Reports from Islamabad, quoting a statement issued by the Indian High Commission, said that the reprieve given to Sarabjit Singh now allows more time for proper consideration for clemency appeals, including by the new government expected to take office soon.

Reports said that the Pakistani administration had said that the authorities concerned with Sarabjit's case had decided that it would be best to put the issue on hold till such time the new government is formed.

While confirming the news of the reprieve in Parliament yesterday, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee was quick to take credit for the positive development and referred to it as “partial success”.

At the same time, he said that the Indian government will continue to carry on its efforts.

The Indian government had asked the Pakistani government to treat Sarabjit's case on humanitarian grounds. Apart from this, Sarabjit’s sister Dalbir Kaur also submitted a clemency petition addressed to Musharraf to the Pakistan High Commission here.

The Indian government which claims that none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is negotiating Sarabjit’s case “every day, every minute,” is pinning hopes on a change of heart by the Pakistan government. And, an appeal for sparing Sarabjit’s life by Pakistan’s noted human rights activist Asma Jahangir in New Delhi today could not have been better timed.

Lending her strong voice for clemency for Sarabjit Singh, chairperson of

the Pakistan National Human Rights Commission Jahangir said that his death sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment and he should be sent back to India.

“He should be sent back to his home country even if it is after serving a life term. Governments should not play politics with the lives of people. There will be goodwill if we save people’s lives. Goodwill should be from both sides.”

“We are neighbours. We must look after each others prisoners. The prisoners are in such a bad shape. We call them vulnerable prisoners,” said Jahangir at a press conference here today.

At the end of her 18-day mission to India as the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jahangir said, “I will appeal that Sarabjit’s life is also spared. I feel very strongly for it.”

Jahangir told the Tribune that Pakistani prisoners under similar circumstances in India also deserve empathy. She said that if a Pakistani prisoner comes to India and is placed in death row, people should stand up and denounce it.

“I believe that prisoners on both sides, first of all, must get consular access. There are 7,500 people on death row in Pakistan. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has researched on the matter and come to the conclusion that there is a serious lack of due process on each prisoner sitting on death row.”

“Our recommendation on prisoners on death row in Pakistan is moratorium should be given to everybody. International safeguards and restrictions in death penalty have not been met in a vast majority of cases,” she told mediapersons.




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