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Pakistan releases Surjeet Singh after 31 years

CNN-IBN
Jun 28, 2012 at 10:26am IST

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New Delhi: Indian prisoner Surjeet Singh, who has served a life term following his arrest on charges of spying in the 1980s, has been released from Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore in Pakistan on Thursday. Pakistani policemen are now escorting the 69-year old to the Wagah border, where he will be handed over to Indian authorities. Indian officials said a team present at Wagah to receive over 300 fishermen being repatriated on Thursday would take care of formalities for Singh's release.

After he emerged from the jail, Surjeet Singh said he was looking forward to meeting his family. "During my imprisonment I often remembered my family and children. Today I am very happy. I will go to the Golden Temple to pray and hug my children," he told reporters.

Surjeet Singh said he would request the Indian government to release Pakistani prisoners lodged in various jails across India.

Surjeet's release made headlines after the Pakistani government confused his name with that of another Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh who is incidentally lodged in the same jail. The news came as a blow to Sarabjit's family in Jalandhar. Sarabjit has been jailed in Pakistan for the past 22 years. He was awarded the death penalty in 1990 Lahore serial blasts case. His fifth mercy petition is pending before Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. On Wednesday, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and Home Minister P Chidambaram appealed to Pakistan to release him as well.

Awais Sheikh, the counsel for Surjeet Singh, told the media on Wednesday that the Indian national was arrested by Pakistani police on charges of spying during the regime of military ruler Zia-ul-Haq.

Singh was given the death sentence under the Pakistan Army Act in 1985. The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1989 by then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

Sources said Singh had held meetings with other prisoners in Kot Lakhpat Jail on Wednesday to bid them farewell. He also requested the authorities to serve him 'sewai' to celebrate his impending release, the sources said.

Hours after reports emerged on Wednesday that Pakistan was to free Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh, the presidential spokesman clarified that authorities had actually ordered the release of Surjeet and not Sarabjit.

(With additional inputs from PTI)

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