Pak dramatic U-turn, says Surjeet freed, not Sarabjit

Islamabad: Dashing hopes for release of Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh within hours of reports that he was being freed, Pakistan today clarified that it had taken steps for the release of another Indian prisoner named Surjeet Singh who has been jailed for three decades.

Pakistani media, which had gone on an overdrive yesterday with reports that President Asif Ali Zardari had commuted Sarabjit`s death sentence to life imprisonment and directed authorities to release him if he had completed his jail term, described as a "U-turn" the government`s clarification which came after midnight last night.

"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," Presidential Spokesman Farhatullah Babar told PTI.

Law Minister Farooq Naek 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. "Keeping him in jail any longer will be illegal confinement," he added.

Any references to President Zardari in the entire matter were "out of context", the Presidential spokesman said.

In its report, `DawnNews` said today the government in an unusual way took a U-turn on release of Sarabjit and stated that the release orders were signed for "Surjeet Singh" and not for "Sarabjit Singh".

Surjeet, currently being held in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore, 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.

Sarabjit, 49, who too is being held at Kot Lakhpat, was sentenced to death for alleged involvement in a string of blasts in Punjab province in 1990.