Writes to Zardari to free Sarabjit in the ‘name of humanity'

Press Council of India Chairman Markandey Katju has sought a matching gesture from Pakistan after the Supreme Court allowed Pakistani prisoner Khaleel Chisti to visit his country.

In a letter addressed to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and handed over to Dr. Chisti's daughter Amna, Justice (Retd.) Katju has appealed in the “name of humanity” to free Sarabjit Singh, an Indian national who has been on death row in a Pakistani jail for 21 years after he was implicated in the Lahore bomb blast case of 1990 in which 14 people died.

Ms. Amna Chisti, in reply to Mr. Justice Katju, assured him that she would pass on the letter to the Pakistani leadership.

Expressing reservations about the court verdict that found Sarabjit guilty, the former Supreme Court judge pointed out that the principal witness in the case, Shaukat Salim, had retracted his statement and said it was given under police pressure. On the other evidence — Sarabjit's alleged confession, the judge said: “Everyone knows how confessions are obtained in our countries.”

“At any event, 21 years on death row with a Damocles' sword hanging over one's head is enough to drive anyone mad. Is this punishment not enough?” Mr. Justice Katju asked in his letter to the Pakistani President. Blaming the “unfortunate atmosphere” in both countries that forced them to regard each others people like “devils,” he felt it was high time “this unfounded impression was dispelled in both our countries.”

“My own guess is that he had entered Pakistan for doing some illegal business [he said it was for doing illicit trade in liquor] and not for any terrorist activity…Your Excellency was kind enough to honour my appeal in the case of Gopal Das and release him, and the Indian Supreme Court recently allowed Dr. Chisti to go back to Pakistan.”

In his earlier letters sent through Pakistan High Commissioner in India Shahid Malik and noted Pakistani human rights activist Aziz Burney, Mr. Justice Katju had quoted Portia's speech in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice about the quality of mercy.

He concluded this letter with a sher by Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz: Qafas udas hai yaaron saba se kuch to kaho Kaheen to beher-e-khuda aaj zikr-e-yaar chale (The prison is sad my friends, for God's sake please tell the cool morning breeze to mention my friend's name).

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