Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sarabjit's Death Sentence Case

Pakistan's Supreme Court has dismissed three review petitions filed by Indian national Sarabjit Singh and upheld the death sentence awarded to him for involvement in bomb attacks in 1990 that killed 14 persons. The upholding of Sarabjit's death sentence by Pakistan's Supreme Court is a great shock for all those who were hoping for his release. However, the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court had rejected Sarabjit's appeal earlier, and, therefore, the recent verdict should not come as a surprise.
In fact, Sarabjit has been suffering all these years because of being a case of mistaken identity. He is an innocent person, who deserves to be set free, as well-known Pakistani human rights activist and former minister Ansar Burney has been saying.
Sarabjit, who is languishing in a Pakistani jail for the last 18 years, has got a new lawyer, days after the Supreme Court in Islamabad dismissed his appeal against capital punishment.
Charges Against Sarabjit
Sarabjit was sentenced to death by a special anti-terrorist court in 1991 on charge of spying and killing 14 persons in two bomb blasts, one in Lahore and one in Faisalabad a year earlier. In January 2003, the Lahore High Court rejected his appeal against his sentence and later, in August 2005, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence. On March 3, 2008, the then President, Pervez Musharraf, also rejected his mercy plea.
Sarabjit was to be hung on April 1, 2008, but on March 18 he was granted a 30-day extension that was later stayed indefinitely by Musharraf.
Although the facts that emerged with regard to Sarabjit in the past three years and the discussion that had been going on in media and at diplomatic level had given some hope, this latest decision has created a situation of hopelessness.
The absence of Sarabjit's counsel in the court is a mystery that may become clear in the coming days, but such a big decision cannot be made just because of the lawyer's absence. Obviously, the court has considered the police investigation, testimonies of witnesses, and earlier court verdicts weightier than the argument of false identification. However, it is an irony that the police there have recorded the name of the killer of 14 persons, who were killed in four explosions in 1990, as Manjit Singh, and the punishment is also being given to Manjit Singh, who is, in fact, Sarabjit Singh.
Hanging Postponed
This could now be finally decided at two levels. One way is of general pardon to Sarabjit by the President. There had been some hope of it during the term of Musharraf, but after that the Government took only two initiatives in this matter. On 1 April 2008, Sarabjit's hanging was postponed by the order of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. After that, in October 2008, the Law Minister there had issued a statement about reviewing the case after meeting with Sarabjit in Kot Lakhpat prison. The President could decide about granting or not granting general pardon only after the Government's recommendation, and the Law Ministry's opinion is essential for it. Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney is going to file an appeal with the President.
India’s Initiative
India has talked about taking an initiative. The matter is related to terrorism and Sarabjit is an Indian, therefore, the Pakistani Government is hesitating to make the decision about amnesty, but it will be very unfortunate if an innocent person is hanged. This can only be settled at the diplomatic level. A way out could be found through talks between the governments.
External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna’s appeal to Pakistan to “take a sympathetic and humanitarian view in the case” is unexceptionable. After all, Sarabjit has suffered imprisonment for 18 years, which is more than life sentence, even when there is no solid proof to substantiate the charge levelled against him.
The Pakistani Government might recommend offering general pardon to Sarabjit considering all facts, but then Sarabjit would have to be considered as innocent and the police investigation as false. After that, all decisions will automatically be proved as wrong. This will be a reflection on the credibility of the police and the security agencies. The other way out is that the Government asks the investigation agency for a fresh probe with new facts, and its officers come to India and confirm the facts.

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