New Delhi, June 27 (IANS): India today renewed its request to Pakistan to release death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh after a midnight volte-face by Islamabad and said it was awaiting official communication from the Pakistan government and a report from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad on this issue.
"I have seen media reports about the impending release from imprisonment in Pakistan of Surjeet Singh...I welcome this decision and further renew our request to the President of Pakistan to release Sarabjit Singh who has been in custody for over two decades. He is serving a death sentence," External Affairs Minister SM Krishna told reporters here.
Krishna's statement came after Pakistan's apparent volte-face about releasing Sarabjit Singh on Tuesday night. On June 26, the Pakistani media had carried reports of Sarabjit getting a Presidential pardon. However, Islamabad clarified late evening that it was not Sarabjit but Surjeet Singh, his fellow inmate at Kot Lakhpat Jail, who would be released.
Pakistan claims that Sarabjit Singh, who is known as Manjit Singh there, was involved in staging four blasts in Lahore and Multan in 1990, which claimed 14 lives. His family however, maintains that Sarabjit, a resident of border town of Bhikhiwind, had strayed across the border in an inebriated state in August 1990.
Jubilation to despair for Sarabjit's family According to a report from Jalandhar, the celebrations in Punjab's Bhikhiwind village quickly turned to despair as news came in early Wednesday of Pakistan's apparent flip-flop on the pardon and release of Sarabjit Singh, who is on death row on terrorism charges.
Family members and friends, who had only hours earlier distributed sweets, were stunned at the sudden turn of events.
"We are shocked by this. We are disappointed and shattered. But we will not give up hope on getting Sarabjit released. We will continue to fight for him. By doing this, Pakistan is playing with our sentiments," Sarabjit's sister Dalbir Kaur said in Jalandhar.
In their village Bhikhiwind, along the India-Pakistan international border about 280 km from the state capital Chandigarh, people gathered at Sarabjit's family home to sympathise with them. Family members and residents who had burst fireworks on Tuesday evening were reeling from the shock.
"We still have faith that he will be released. We feel cheated by this turn of events," Poonam, Sarabjit's daughter, said in Bhikhiwind.
The late night development led to celebrations in Phidde village in of Punjab's frontier Ferozepur district as Surjeet Singh's family heard the news that he would be released after languishing in Pakistani jails for over three decades.
Pakistan Law Minister Farooq Naek on Tuesday conveyed to the Interior Ministry that Surjeet Singh had completed his life term in jail and ought to be released and sent back to India, Babar said. Surjeet Singh has been in Pakistani captivity for over 30 years. He was captured near the border with India on charges of spying during the era of military ruler Zia-ul-Haq.
Earlier in the day, media reports said Zardari had converted Sarabjit Singh's death sentence to life imprisonment and directed authorities to release him if he had completed his prison term.
Pakistan frees 311 Indian prisoners:Meanwhile, a report from Islamabad stated that Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh's fate may have plunged into further uncertainity, but India still has some reason to cheer. Pakistan on Wednesday freed 311 Indian fishermen from prison.
Officials of Karachi's District Malir jail said, 311 Indian prisoners were released at 8 am after completing their sentences. They were sent to Wagah border where they will be handed over to Indian authorities, Geo TV reported.
The prisoners, including 21 juveniles, were lodged in Youthful Offenders' School in Karachi. The adult prisoners were held at Malir jail. A total of 127 Indian prisoners still remain in Malir jail.