Urges Pakistan to reciprocate Indian decision to release Chishty
Sarabjit Singh, the Indian death row prisoner lodged in a Pakistani jail for the past 22 years, on Monday filed his fifth mercy petition. The petition comes at a time when advocates for humanitarian treatment of prisoners in India and Pakistan are stepping up pressure for Sarabjit's release.
According to Sarabjit's lawyer, Awais Sheikh, the mercy petition, along with 100,000 signatures collected from India, urges Pakistan to reciprocate the Indian decision to release Pakistani octogenarian virologist Khaleel Chisti on humanitarian grounds.
Meanwhile, citizens on both sides of the border are arguing that the issue of cross border prisoners must not be used for political purposes. Rather, it should be considered purely on humanitarian grounds, the former Pakistani Senator, Syed Faseih Iqbal, said in an email to Press Council of India Chairman Justice (retd.) Markandey Katju on Sunday.
Civil society's role
Acknowledging the positive role played by Mr. Justice Katju and civil society activists in paving the way for the release of Dr. Chisti “thanks to a wave of positive confidence building measures,” Mr. Iqbal has promised to write a letter to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari seeking Sarabjit's release.
The Press Council of Pakistan (PCP) member's assurance came after Mr. Justice Katju mentioned his three appeals to Mr. Zardari for pardoning Sarabjit in a letter to Mr. Iqbal. The Chief Editor of Balochistan Times, Mr. Iqbal said Mr. Katju's appeal was appreciated by all “peace loving people in Pakistan” who have expressed their support for it. “We share the common opinion that pardon to Sarabjit Singh, if granted, may prove to be a turning point culminating in a full-fledged peace process between our two countries,” he added.
According to him, Mr. Justice Katju's first appeal to Mr. Zardari — sent through Pakistani High Commissioner in India — “definitely” broke some ice. On his part, Mr. Iqbal published a special news comment in his newspaper, strongly supporting the appeal for Sarabjit's release.
“Your persistence in this matter is laudable and I take the idea of continuously knocking the door. I have taken note of valid and logical points you have made in your instant e-mail and would like to inform you that I am again going to… write another letter to President Zardari and also mobilise public opinion in favour of Sarabjit's release through prominent human rights activists in my country,” he said.
Mr. Justice Katju after going through some details of Sarabjit's case found that the main prosecution witness, Shaukat Salim, had retracted his statement in court and said that it was given under duress. The other evidence against Sarabjit is his alleged confession, “but we all know how confessions are obtained in both our countries,” the retired judge pointed out.
In Mr. Justice Katju's opinion Sarabjeet had gone to Pakistan to do some illegal business but was “certainly not involved” in the Lahore bomb blast of 1990 for which he was sentenced to death. He spent 21 years on death row and was shifted after a concerted campaign by the Pakistan civil society. “Unfortunately the atmosphere in both our countries is so vitiated that often we regard people of each other's countries as devils, and both Dr. Chishty and Sarabjit were victims of this mindset,” he said.