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Kashmir Singh freed, arriving today

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FREEDOM AT LAST: Pakistan caretaker Minister for Human Rights Ansar Burney (left) comes out with Kashmir Singh at the Central Jail in Lahore on Monday.
FREEDOM AT LAST: Pakistan caretaker Minister for Human Rights Ansar Burney (left) comes out with Kashmir Singh at the Central Jail in Lahore on Monday.

Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: Kashmir Singh, the death row prisoner who spent 35 years in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail, was released on Monday night following a presidential pardon and is expected to cross the Wagah border to India on Tuesday.

Mr. Singh was swamped by the media as he stepped out of the gates of Kot Lakhpat jail, accompanied by Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney at about 8 p.m.

Amid the popping of hundreds of flash bulbs, Mr. Singh was bundled into a car and taken to a five-star hotel in Lahore where he will spend his first night as a free man in over three decades.

The Indian High Commission here issued Mr. Singh travel documents, and Pakistani authorities gave him a Pakistan visa to enable him to cross the border.

He is expected to cross into India at about 11 a.m. on Tuesday.

In good health

An Indian diplomat, who met Mr. Singh for nationality verification procedures, said he appeared mentally and physically in good condition.

“He is frustrated about his 35 years in prison, but otherwise he looked quite healthy and mentally too he seems fine. He could describe his family and also how he was arrested,” said Mr. Suresh Reddy, counsellor, Visas, who met and interviewed the pardoned prisoner.

Mr. Singh belongs to Hoshiarpur in Punjab. He was a constable in the Punjab police. He told the Indian official that he was suspended from the police force, and had taken to “cross-border trading.” He said he was arrested in 1973 near Rawalpindi on his way back to India from Peshawar.

Mr. Singh was arrested and convicted on charges of spying, and sentenced to death. His first reprieve came in 1977, when his execution was stayed. He was to be executed in 1978 but the order was once again kept in abeyance pending a decision on a mercy petition filed by him, which gathered dust for over three decades.

The Indian High Commission here said it had been aware of Mr. Singh’s case all these years but were not given permission to meet Mr. Singh as he fell in the category of “security prisoner.”

“He was on our list as a death sentence prisoner and we had been seeking access to him for quite a long while, but it was never granted,” said Mr. Reddy.

Mr. Singh’s prospects brightened only after Mr. Burney stumbled upon him during a tour of the Lahore jail, and took his case direct to the presidency, moving a fresh appeal on his behalf which Gen. Musharraf accepted on humanitarian grounds.

Mr. Burney, who was appointed Minister in the caretaker government, is a well-known human rights activist. The Kot Lakhpat jail authorities handed over Mr. Singh to a trust set up by the minister named after himself. It is now run by his son Fahad Burney who will accompany Mr. Singh across the border on Tuesday to reunite him with his family.

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