A day after the Surjeet Singh -Sarabjit Singh being released from Pakistani jail mix up, Foreign Minister SM Krishna made a fresh appeal to the Pakistan government to release Sarabjit Singh. "I further renew our request to the President of Pakistan to release Sarabjit Singh who has been in custody for over 2 decades and is serving death sentence," Mr Krishna told the media in a statement.
Mr Krishna issued this statement in the morning, after yesterday's reports that Pakistan was to free Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh. Several hours later the Pakistan presidential spokesperson clarified that authorities had taken steps for the release of another Indian prisoner named Surjeet Singh, and not Sarabjit.
As the news of Sarabjit's release broke out, Mr Krishna had then thanked Mr Zardari over the purported move.
Sarabjit Singh's family, who had earlier expressed joy over his release, said they were disappointed and shocked over this mix-up, but hoped that Sarabjit Singh would also be pardoned by President Zardari.
"India's Foreign Minister thanking Mr Zardari is a gesture in itself. It isn't a small thing. I talked with many senior reporters in Pakistan. Many of them called me and told me about Sarabjit's release, "his sister Dalbir Kaur told NDTV.
"We were really shocked when we heard that Surjeet and not Sarabjit was being released. We hope the Pakistani Government would not have done this," said Swapandeep Kaur, Sarabjit's daughter.
"Congratulations to Surjeet Singh and his family. I hope my brother follows Surjeet Singh, and comes back home," said Dalbeer.
Meanwhile Surjeet Singh's family was elated with the news of his release. "My father has been in jail for three decades. His crime was that he crossed over the border. He completed his sentence five years ago, but is still in jail," said his son Kulwinder Singh. He also said, he hoped Sarabjit Singh was freed along with his father.
Ansar Burney, Pakistan's human rights activist too expressed surprise at this mistaken identity issue saying something was amiss in this whole issue. "The Presidency spokesperson spoke to several media houses in Pakistan and he never corrected anyone saying its Surjeet, not Sarabjit. However eight hours after the news flashing, a clarification is issued. There is something wrong in this. There could be some pressure on the Presidency or there is something else," said Mr Burney.
The presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar statement last night said, "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," he said.
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", he added.
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 26, 2012 16:40 IST