Islamabad: Sarabjit Singh, the Indian prisoner on death row in Pakistan, might escape the gallows with the country’s law and justice ministry asking the interior ministry to commute all death sentences to life imprisonment.
Law and Justice Minister Farooq H. Naek said on Friday his ministry has sent a note on this to the interior ministry, which after considering it, will present it to the cabinet for approval. Hopefully the decision will be implemented "soon", he added. The order may help around 7,000 prisoners, including Sarabjit.
According to interior ministry records, over 7,000 prisoners in Pakistan have been sentenced to death by different courts. Among them are 35 women and seven foreigners, including two Indians Sarabjit Singh and Kirpal Singh.
Sarabjit was arrested in 1991 on charges of fabricating bombs and planning to plant these in Lahore. However, his family members have written several letters to Pakistani authorities saying he crossed the border in a stupor.
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a television interview that Sarabjit's case can be resolved through dialogue.
"Every issue, including this one, can be resolved through dialogue," the minister replied when specifically asked about Sarabjit, who was awarded the death penalty by an anti-terrorism court in 1991 with the high court upholding this. The Supreme Court rejected his mercy petition in March 2006.
Former military ruler President Pervez Musharraf rejected his mercy petition in March last year but his execution was deferred in April last year for 21 days and again till further orders.
Sarabjit's family members, human rights organisations and the Indian government have urged the president to grant clemency to Singh, who was convicted for his alleged involvement in the 1990 serial bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan that killed 14 people.
Singh says he is only a poor farmer and victim of a mistaken identity and had strayed into Pakistan from his village located on the border.
Pakistan's leading human rights activist Ansar Burney said the interior ministry orders will apply to all prisoners on death row, irrespective of the nature of their crime.
"All prisoners who have been awarded capital punishment will benefit from this and their sentences will be converted into life imprisonment," Burney told IANS.
Burney has for long been lobbying for the move and had also presented a report to Musharraf when he was minister for human rights in the caretaker setup under Musharraf from November 2007 to March 2008.
"I am really grateful to the government and believe this would be a huge step in recognizing human rights, which is the hallmark of all religions and all societies," Burney added.