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Surjeet Singh walks free after 30 years in Pakistan jail

Agencies
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Released Indian prisoner Surjeet Singh.Photo: AFP
Released Indian prisoner Surjeet Singh.Photo: AFP

Surjeet Singh, freed after spending three decades in a Pakistani prison on spying charges, walked across the border Thursday into India where he was met by family and hordes of reporters.

"I met my children after 30 years in my country. This is happiness," said Surjeet Singh, 69, who was arrested in Pakistan's Punjab state adjoining Ferozepur in India in the 1980s and convicted on spying charges.

Surjeet, 69, was released from Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail early Thursday and made the road journey to Wagah, on the Pakistan side of the border, before entering his homeland.

Smiling and waving to family members, friends and supporters, Surjeet thanked Pakistani border officials as he walked across the zero line at the international border.

He was garlanded and hugged by family members and fellow villagers from Phidde in Ferozepur district. “I am very happy to return after 30 years and meeting my children and family,” Surjeet said.

“Indian prisoners are treated well in Pakistan jails. Sarabjit Singh is also doing well there. He has sent no message with me. Leave it to me, I will get him released... Please don’t ask anything more,” Surjeet told reporters here, referring to Sarabjit Singh, also from Punjab who has been in Kot Lakhpat jail. Asked why he crossed into Pakistan, he admitted he did so as a spy.

Dressed in a white kurta-pyjama and black turban and carrying two bags, Surjeet was brought to the Wagah border on the Pakistan side in a prison van. His son Kulwinder, holding a box of sweets, couldn’t hold back his tears. The family had given up hope of seeing him again, presuming him dead after he went missing near the border in Ferozepur sector in 1982. “I was only two-three years old when he went missing. This is the biggest day of my life,” said Kulwinder, with his mother Harbans Kaur next to him.

Pakistani media had originally reported that the person being released was Sarabjit Singh, a high-profile prisoner who has spent two decades on death row in Pakistan after being convicted for his role in a string of bombings.

Sarabjit Singh's family has campaigned steadily for his release, claiming he is an innocent farmer from Punjab who crossed the border by mistake.

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna urged the Pakistani authorities on Wednesday to release Sarabjit Singh as well as all other Indian prisoners whose prison terms had ended.

India released an 80-year-old Pakistani doctor last month on humanitarian grounds, after he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment following an 18-year-long trial.

In April 2011 Gopal Das, one of Pakistan's longest-serving Indian prisoners was released after Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari intervened in his case.


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