Islamabad: Hours after reports emerged that Pakistan was to free Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh, the presidential spokesman clarified that authorities had taken steps for the release of another Indian prisoner named Surjeet Singh, and not Sarabjit. Earlier, Pakistani media had reported that president Asif Ali Zardari had commuted the death sentence for Sarabjit Singh. As the news of Sarabjit's release broke out, even External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had thanked Mr Zardari over the purported move.
"I think there is some confusion. First, it is not a case of pardon. More importantly, it is not Sarabjit. It is Surjeet Singh, son of Sucha Singh. His death sentence was commuted in 1989 by President (Ghulam) Ishaq (Khan) on the advice of (then premier) Benazir Bhutto," presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said in a statement.
Mr Babar said Law Minister Farooq Naek on Tuesday conveyed to the Interior Ministry that Surjeet Singh had completed his life term in jail and ought to be released and sent back to India.
"Keeping him in jail any longer will be illegal confinement," he added.
Any references to president Asif Ali Zardari in the entire matter were "out of context", the presidential spokesman said.
Sarabjit Singh's family, who had earlier expressed joy over Sarabjit's release, said they were disappointed, but they still hope that Sarabjit would be pardoned by president Zardari.
"We are shocked. But we still believe Mr Zardari is a decent man. I am sure he will not play with our emotions. This is not just about our sentiments, this is about whole of India's sentiments. I have faith that Sarabjit would be released," Sarabjit Singh's sister Dalbir Kaur told NDTV.
"Congratulations to Surjeet Singh and his family. I hope my brother follows Surjeet Singh, and comes back home," she said.
Surjeet Singh, currently being held in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore, has been in Pakistani captivity for over 30 years. He was captured near the border with India on charges of spying during the era of military ruler Zia-ul-Haq.
Sarabjit Singh, who is also in the same jail as Surjeet Singh, was convicted for blasts in Lahore and Multan in 1990. At least 10 people were killed in those attacks. He has argued that he is innocent and that he is a farmer from Tarn-Taran who crossed the border by mistake. He was first given the death sentence by a Pakistani judge in 1991. Several appeals were rejected by different courts including the Supreme Court. Former Pakistani President had rejected his mercy petition. His family has campaigned relentlessly for his release. He had sent a fresh clemency appeal to president Zardari in May this year.
Last month, Pakistani prisoner, Dr Khalil Chishty, who was in the Ajmer jail for nearly two decades, returned to his country. The 80-year-old virologist was in jail in a 1992 murder case.
Story first published:
June 27, 2012 00:51 IST