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Pakistan minister speaks up for Sarabjit

By Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
March 24, 2008 16:34 IST
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Pakistan's incoming government should convert the death sentence of Indian national Sarabjit Singh into life imprisonment on "humanitarian grounds" and ensure his early release, caretaker Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney said on Monday.

President Pervez Musharraf had on March 19 deferred the hanging of Sarabjit, scheduled for April 1, by 30 days after receiving an appeal for clemency from the Indian government and the condemned man's family.

Burney, a leading human rights activist, requested the incoming government and prime minister-designate Yousuf Raza Gillani to convert Sarabjit's death sentence into life imprisonment as he had "spent more than a life sentence on death row in Pakistani jails", which was "worse than hell".

He also called for the early release on humanitarian grounds of Sarabjit, who has been held in Pakistani jails for 18 years.

Burney said he would not allow the government to hang a person for "reportedly mistaken identity".

Sarabjit was sentenced to death in 1991 for his alleged involvement in four bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan that killed 14 people.

His family denies he is a spy as claimed by Pakistan and insists he accidentally strayed into Pakistani territory.

The mercy petition of Sarabjit, who Pakistan claims is Manjit Singh, was rejected by Musharraf on March 3.

Sarabjit's mercy petition was sent to the president along with that of Indian prisoner Kashmir Singh, who was pardoned and freed after spending 35 years on death row in Pakistani jails.

Pakistan's Supreme Court too rejected Sarabjit's plea for clemency in March 2006.

Burney said he expected the new government to continue improving the human rights situation in Pakistan as necessary reforms had already been initiated at various levels.

"I would also like to request for jail reforms and the stopping of human trafficking and slavery," he said.

Condemned prisoners who had spent over 10 years in jails should be pardoned and their death sentences converted into life imprisonment as prisoners cannot be given two sentences for the same crime, he pointed out.

Tangible steps also need to be taken at the earliest to ensure schooling and proper upbringing of juvenile delinquents and children who accompany their imprisoned mothers, he said.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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