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Sarabjit death sentence: 5,000 people hold rally to demand clemency

By Deepak Sharma in Amritsar
August 25, 2005 17:10 IST
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Nearly 5,000 people held a rally as shops and businesses shut down on Thursday in the home town of an Indian facing death by hanging in Pakistan, demanding clemency and his immediate return home.

"Sarabjeet Singh is innocent. He has been falsely implicated by Pakistani spy agencies," said Tejvir Singh, a Congress party leader, in Bhikwind, a town 45 km north of Amritsar, an Indian border city.

Singh's wife, Sukhpreet Kaur, who also attended the rally, said her husband was not a spy as claimed by Pakistani authorities. He had strayed into Pakistani territory while farming his land close to the border with Pakistan, she said.

Singh has spent 15 years in Pakistani jails before being sentenced to death for spying and involvement in a string of bomb blasts in Pakistani cities.

His wife, his two daughters Sapandeep Kaur and Poonam, and sister Dalbir Kaur said they were prepared to hang themselves from a rope tied to the roof of their home if Pakistan carried out the execution.

On Thursday, Kaur said she had given to Indian authorities the voters list carrying her husband's name and bank documents to prove his identity as a farmer.

On Wednesday, Shiv Shankar Menon, India's High Commissioner to Pakistan, met with Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan in Islamabad and discussed Singh's case.

The death sentence against Sarabjit Singh was upheld last week by Pakistan's Supreme Court.

Earlier this week, a group of lawmakers and politicians from Singh's native Punjab state met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and urged him to take up the matter with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.

In Islamabad, a Pakistani official insisted Singh had been treated properly.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Naeem Khan on Tuesday said Singh "has confessed to carrying out bombings in Lahore, Kasur and Faisalabad".

But he noted that Singh can appeal to Musharraf to spare his life.

Indian diplomats already have asked Pakistani authorities for permission to see Singh.

For years, India and Pakistan regularly accused people who strayed across the border of espionage.

Dozens remain in jails in both countries, though both have freed several prisoners in recent months as part of an improvement in relations.

No date has been set for Singh's hanging in Pakistan.

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Deepak Sharma in Amritsar