New Delhi: Pakistan Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh's review petition challenging his death sentence in the 1990 Lahore bomb blast case.
The petition was rejected by a three -member bench led by Justice Raja Fayyaz Ahmed on the grounds of non-pursuance of the case by his lawyer. The court also upheld the death sentence awarded to him by an anti-terrorism court in 1991.
Sarabjit's lawyer Rana Abdul Hamid was not present on Wednesday despite a directive to him. The lawyer was also absent for the last hearing on Monday.
In fact Hamid has been appointed Advocate General of Punjab province and it is not clear if he can also represent Sarabjit while holding that office.
Sources told CNN-IBN that Lahore Jammat-ud Dawa (Lashkar-e-Toiba front) leaders forced Sarbajit's lawyer to not attend the court.
But Hamid told CNN-IBN that he would file another appeal on Sarabjit's behalf.
"I was not authorised to appear as I was appointed to the Punjab government. So I asked my friend to appear in the Supreme Court on my behalf. But he was busy. Today I have been de-notified so I can file an application in the court and appeal," said Hamid
"I am not under pressure," he replied when asked is he was forced to abstain from the hearing.
Sarabjit's family has been claiming that he was innocent saying he strayed into Pakistani territory in a drunken state in 1990.
His wife Sukhpreet Kaur appealed to the Indian government to put pressure on Pakistan for releasing Sarabjit.
“I appeal to Indian and Pakistani governments that my husband is innocent. The time he spent in Pakistan surpasses life sentence. This delay is torturing us. If India puts pressure, he can be saved. Indian government should not remain quiet,” appealed Sukhpreet.
Meanwhile, DawnNews Correspondent Kamran Yuasaf told CNN-IBN the only option left for Sarabjit was to wait for the Pakistani government to take a decision.
“In the last hearing his lawyer was not present in the court. Supreme Court directed that his lawyer should be present in the next hearing. Today (Wednesday) his lawyer again was not present. That prompted the Supreme Court bench to reject Sarabjit's three-pointer review petition. Sarabjit was arrested in 1990,” said Yuasaf.
He was convicted of espionage and terrorism and his mercy petition was rejected by the Supreme Court earlier. Now the review petition has also been rejected by the SC. Sarabjit has absolutely no option left except to wait for his execution. So its upto the Pakistani government now to handle this issue because the court has reject is release petition,” he added.
Lawyer Majid Memon, however, claimed that there some options still left for Sarabjit.
“We have to see how his case was presented in the Supreme Court. I have reports that his lawyer were not given enough time to present the case. If that is the case then it is very unfortunate that lawyer of Sarabjit was not allowed to put up his client’s case. If this is true this needs to be corrected,” said Memon
“The system in our country is very similar to that of Pakistan. If the Supreme Court of Pakistan has rejected the mercy petition of Sarabjit … Pakistani President can consider weather his plea has any substance or not. His next recourse is to make a representation to the Pakistani President,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile, former Punjab chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh said, "This is a very unfortunate decision and it will not lead to good relationship with our neighbouring country."
Sarabjit has been on death row since he was convicted for alleged involvement in four bomb blasts in 1990 that killed 14 people. He has spent the next 19 years in the Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore.
The Lahore High Court found him guilty of espionage and involvement in the blasts and he was awarded the death sentence.
He appealed against the death sentence in 2003 but Lahore High Court upheld the sentence. Pakistan Supreme Court, too, upheld the death sentence in August 2005.
However, there is still hope for Sarabjit as he had also petitioned Pakistani President's office on which Asif Ali Zardari is yet to take a decision.
According to Pakistan's Interior Ministry, Sarabjit's case is still under consideration.
Sarabjit can also escape execution only if Hamid files an application to the court explaining his absence.
Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf dismissed Sarabjit's mercy petition in 2008 and the execution was scheduled for April 1 2008.
India appealed for clemency and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani intervened and it was deferred for 30 days by Musharraf so that the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government could review his case
In October 2008, the then law minister Farooq Naek met Sarabjit in jail to examine his case so that Zardari could decide whether to pardon him but there been no word from Zardari on the matter.
With no legal options left, now only the Pakistan President can remit or pardon him.
Pakistan is also playing hard ball and trying to equate the case of 26/11 accused Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab with that of Sarabjit.
But the two are not comparable.
While Kasab was caught red-handed on the scene of the attacks, Sarabjit was held two months after the Lahore bombings.
Kasab has been in jail for only 7 months whereas Sarabjit has already spent 19 years in prison. Witnesses have identified Kasab but Sarabjit still maintains his is a case of mistaken identity.
The court in India appointed Kasab a lawyer while Sarabjit's lawyers are from a human rights group.
It seems Sarabjit is also caught in a political crossfire between the Indian and Pakistani governments,
President Musharraf was inconsistent on the issue. In 2008, first he dismissed Sarabjit's mercy plea all together and then in March, he deferred the execution by 30 days that was scheduled for April 1.
Sarabjit's case took a beating when another Indian prisoner Kashmir Singh who was pardoned and released by Pakistan, claimed to being a spy for the Indian Army on his return.
The case was almost put in cold storage after 26/11 as India and Pakistan's ties became strained.
Now Islamabad's attempts to compare the trials of Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru and Kasab has made matters worse.
THE CASE SO FAR
- Indian national Sarabjit Singh was arrested in Pakistan after four bomb blasts in Lahore in 1990, in which 14 people died
- He spent the next 18 years in the Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore
- His family back home in Amritsar claimed he had strayed into the Pakistani side in a drunken state and it was a case of mistaken identity
- The Lahore High Court found him guilty of espionage and involvement in the blasts, and awarded him the death sentence
- When Sarabjit appealed against the death sentence in 2003, the Lahore High Court upheld it
- In August 2005, the Pakistan Supreme Court upheld the death sentence in Sarabjit's case
- Three years later, former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf dismissed Sarabjit's mercy petition
- Sarabjit Singh's execution was scheduled for April 1, 2008
- That's when India appealed for clemency
- It was only when Pakistan PM Yousaf Raza Gilani's made a timely intervention on March 20, 2008 that Musharraf deferred the hanging by 30 days - this so that the PPP-led government could review his case
- In October last year, former law minister Farooq Naek visited Sarabjit in jail to examine the case so that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari could decide whether to pardon him or not
- But there's been no word from Zardari on the matter ever since
- With no legal options left, according to Pakistani law now only the Pakistan President can pardon him or remit the sentence