New Delhi: There was a cruel twist for Indian prisoner in Pakistan Sarabjit Singh and his family. Hours after announcing that he would be released, Islamabad has confirmed that it's not him, but another Indian prisoner Surjeet Singh who is being sent home.
It was a major faux pas by the government, which means for now Sarabjit Singh will not be released. He has been in jail for the past 22 years after he was convicted in the 1990 serial blasts case. Zardari had commuted his death sentence to life and is considering Sarabjit's fifth mercy plea that was sent last month.
The clarification came over five hours after Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's spokesperson Farhatullah Babar confirmed that Sarabjit was to be released, sparking celebrations at his Jalandhar home.
"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," Farhatullah Babar said. Any references to President Asif Ali Zardari in the entire matter were "out of context", the presidential spokesman said.
This came as a major blow to Sarabjit Singh's family. They had begun celebrating his release when the news came in of Pakistan's blunder. Sarabjit's sister, who has been leading the fight for his release, says they are disappointed but are still holding on to hope.
"I am really shocked by this. But I have faith in the Pakistan government. It is not possible that Zardari and Pakistan government will play with our emotions. I strongly believe that Sarabjit will be freed soon. I am happy that Surjeet Singh is freed and I am happy for his family," Sarabjit's sister said.
"The faux pas has played with our emotions. But I still hope that my father will be released soon," Sarabjit's daughter said.
Reacting to the faux pas, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna renewed India's request for Sarabjit's release.
Sarabjit's lawyer Awais Sheikh said, "This is an irresponsible statement from Farhatullah Babar on behalf of the Pakistan government."
Surjeet Singh, who is to be released, has been languishing in the same Pakistani prison as Sarabjit for three decades. Officials now say that Pakistan's Law Minister told the Interior Minister to release him as he has completed his life term.
A little over a month ago, ailing Pakistani virologist Khalil Chishti, detained in Rajasthan for nearly two decades on the charge of involvement in a murder, was freed on the orders of India's Supreme Court so that he could meet his family in Karachi.
The blunder raises some big questions:
- Why did the Pakistan government spokesperson first claim on Pakistan television that it was Sarabjit Singh who will be released?
- What took 5 hours for the Pakistan government to deny this on Pakistan television?
- Why has the Pakistan government still not issued an official statement on this?
(With additional information from PTI)