'Pakistan is playing with our emotions'

Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh’s family yesterday said 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.

File pics

The celebrations in Bhikhiwind village quickly turned to shock and despair as news came in of the apparent volte-face on the pardon and release of Sarabjit, 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, Islamabad on 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 emotions,” 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,” said Kaur.
“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,” she added.

In their village Bhikhiwind, along the India-Pakistan international border, people gathered at Sarabjit’s family home to sympathise with them. Family members and residents who had burst firecrackers on Tuesday evening were reeling from the shock. “We still have faith that he will be released. We feel cheated by this turn of events,” said Poonam, Sarabjit’s younger daughter.

Sarabjit’s family claims that he had crossed into Pakistan inadvertently in August 1990 in an inebriated state and was arrested there. But Pakistani police say Sarabjit, who is known as Manjit Singh there, was involved in acts of terrorism. Sarabjit has been languishing in Pakistani jails since then.

311 Indians freed
Meanwhile, Pakistan yesterday freed 311 Indian fishermen from prison. Officials of Karachi’s District Malir jail said, 311 Indian prisoners were released at 8 am after completing their sentences.

They were sent to Wagah border where they will be handed over to Indian authorities, Geo TV reported. The prisoners, include 21 juveniles, lodged in Youthful Offenders’ School in Karachi. The adult prisoners were held at Malir jail. A total of 127 Indian prisoners still remain in Malir jail. 

Pak President makes a U-turn
Yesterday, around 1 am, President Asif Ali Zardari’s spokesperson said that Surjeet Singh would be released instead of Sarabjit. “First, it isn’t a case of pardon. More importantly, it’s 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 PM Benazir Bhutto,” presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar was quoted as saying by Geo News. Law Minister Farooq Naek on 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. 

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