ISLAMABAD: President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday granted mercy to an Indian prisoner who has been on death row for more than 30 years.
Kashmir Singh, now over 70, was jailed on charges of spying in 1973 and was sentenced to death. His mercy petition had been pending for over three decades. During this time, he was incarcerated in a death cell in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.
“The President has signed the mercy petition,” said Ansar Burney, caretaker Federal Minister for Human Right. “It’s an act of great kindness”.
Mr. Burney, a human rights activist, who was appointed Minister in the caretaker government in November 2007 as Pakistan went into election mode, was beside himself with happiness when The Hindu spoke to him. “I think God made me a Minister only for Kashmir Singh. I am so happy today that I cannot express myself properly.”
The Minister stumbled on the prisoner when he was on a visit of Kot Lakhpat earlier this month. He immediately spoke to the retired General Musharraf, who asked him to forward the prisoner’s summary. Just over two weeks later, it’s all done and Kashmir Singh is on the threshold of freedom.
The Minister said he had forwarded the signed mercy petition to the Interior Ministry, which has to pass orders to the Punjab provincial Home Department for Kashmir Singh’s release.
“I am going to take it personally to Lahore [on Friday], and if not tomorrow, Kashmir Singh should be a free man by Saturday,” said Mr. Burney.
The Interior Ministry has agreed to hand over custody of Kashmir Singh to the Ansar Burney Trust, which will see that he crosses the border back into India.
Mr. Burney said he had informed the Indian High Commission here of the imminent release of Kashmir Singh. Although physically not in very good condition, mentally he appeared “sound” and his memory was good enough to recall that he had a “love marriage.”
Mr. Burney described the death cell Kashmir Singh was in all these years as a “hell”.
The Minister said he had also spoken to Kashmir Singh’s wife Paramjit Kaur in India.
“She also told me that it was because theirs was a love marriage that she had been waiting for him these 35 years.”
Exchange of lists
The presidential pardon came as India and Pakistan agreed to exchange lists of each other’s nationals in their prisons by March 31, and release all prisoners who had served out their sentences and whose nationality was confirmed following consular access.
The two countries have also agreed to release all prisoners accused or convicted of minor offences.
Fishermen arrested for trespassing, and whose national status has been confirmed are to be released immediately and consular access is to be provided to the rest so that their nationality can be ascertained.
24 fishermen held
Meanwhile, 24 Indian fishermen were arrested on Thursday in Pakistan’s exclusive economic zone, evidence that despite diplomatic efforts by both countries to clear their jails of each other’s nationals, the system is a revolving door.