Pakistan: Indian in death cell for 21 years in unfair trial
7 September 2011
PAKISTAN: Release Sarabjit Singh who has now spent 21 years in a death cell due to an unfair trial in a case of mistaken identity
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that an Indian citizen has just completed his 21st year in a death cell in Lahore. He was the victim of the India centric policies of the government of Pakistan and was denied proper justice by the courts. From the very beginning his case was mislead by the prosecution, Intelligence agencies and the courts with a peculiar mindset that the accused person was an Indian citizen. His appeal of clemency has been pending before the president for three years and because of the pressure from Muslim religious groups and anti-India lobby the government is hesitant to pardon his death sentence. The Supreme Court in haste upheld the decision of the lower courts for his execution through an ex-parte decision, without listening to the applicant.
The case of Sarbajit Singh is an example of a miscarriage of justice where mistaken identity was made as the sole evidence of his punishment. The victim's name was Sarabjit Singh but he was sentenced to death in the name of Manjeet Singh. The sole eye witness of the case told different television channels that he was forced through coercion and intimidation to give evidence against the victim by the officials of the intelligence agency, the ISI.
It is said that
government has shown its willingness to release him but is
waiting for the exchange of Pakistani prisoners from Indian
side through the successful diplomatic dialogues between
both the countries.
Mr. Awais Sheikh, the victim's lawyer, has compiled a book on the details of the legal flaws and the absence of proper investigation in the case of Sarabjit Singh under the title: ''A case of mistaken identity of Sarabjit Singh''. It is being published in London and is due for release within the next couple of months.
Sarabjit Singh, the son of Sulakhan Singh, a farmer by profession, was a resident of Bhikhiwind village, five miles from the Pakistani border and forty kilometers from Amritsar, Punjab, India. He had illegally crossed the Indian border at Qasoor, the border city of Punjab, Pakistan, in the late hours of August 29 and 30, 1990, in a drunken condition. In those days there was no barbed wire barrier between the Indian and Pakistani borders, however, there were check posts all around and there was also a no man's land between the borders themselves. At that time he was 28 years of age. He was arrested at the Pakistani check post by the officials of Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and kept in their custody for nine days before being produced in court. He was eventually produced before the judicial magistrate in one First Information Report (FIR), a police case, in the name of Manjeet Singh son of Mohanga Singh for conducting four bomb blasts in the three cities of Punjab province namely, Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad on July 29, 1990, killing 14 persons. Before his production in court, Sarabjit was told by the ISI personnel that he would be charged for illegally entering Pakistan. He was allegedly implicated in the bomb blast which occurred one month before he crossed the Indian border and entered in to Pakistani area. His statement under section 342 of Pakistan Penal Code was taken where he denied the charges and recorded that he is not the Manjeet Singh whose name was mentioned in the FIR. In his confessional statement he refused all allegations mentioned in the FIR and said that the real accused person, Mnajeet Singh, was arrested by the agencies and was released and allowed to run away but that he was falsely implicated in the case.
He was tried in a Special Court on terrorism charges. During the trial he informed the court that he was not the Manjeet Singh mentioned in the FIR and that his name was Sarabjit Singh, the son of Sulakhan Singh. However, he was told by the magistrate that his name is mentioned as Manjeet Singh alias Sarabjit Singh son of Mohanga Singh. He also informed the court that his father's name is Salukhan Singh but this was not given any weight by the court. The trial court awarded him the death sentence under section of 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) of Pakistan Penal Code and section 3 of explosive substance on August 15, 1991, a significant day as it is the day of independence of India.
The sole eye witness of the bomb blasts in Lahore, Mr. Saleem Shoukat, said in an interview with Indian television channels in September 2005, that he was tortured to give evidence against the Sarabjit leading to his conviction. He was told by the prosecution lawyer that he should identify Sarabjit as the main accused in the serial blasts and he had to do that. He admitted that he had not seen the accused as he had fainted during the blasts.
Sarabjit Singh, according to the petition of reconsideration filed in the Supreme Court on March 2011, strongly agitated that he has been substituted as Manjit Singh with mala-fide intention. He has been made a victim of false identification.
Sarabjit says that when he was given the death sentence by the trial court on the Independence Day of his country his hands were bound and he was blindfolded. Furthermore, when he was sent to jail after sentencing the inmates beat him as a gesture of welcoming his sentence.
According to the Hindustan Times, an Indian daily newspaper with a large circulation, in a article dated December 7, 2010, Sarbjit Singh commented about his trial in a letter written in Hindi in which he states: "However, with the help of deceit and lies finally I was made Manjeet Singh by Pakistan and was convicted in the bomb blast case".
During the trial he could not have a lawyer because he did not have any money with him and his family did not know where he was. Also, the court totally ignored the basic requirement of justice and failed to provide with a lawyer.
His appeal against the decision of the trial court was turned down by the Lahore high court on December 10, 2001. The Supreme Court also quashed his appeal in September 2005, saying that the review petition was not filed within the time period as mentioned in the Law. Another review petition was filed in the Supreme Court which was dismissed in haste by the court in 2009. The two member bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Fayyaz Ahmed, issued notice for the hearing on June 10, 2009 and when the lawyer was not there the next date was fixed for June 26. As the lawyer was busy in another court the bench dismissed the appeal and the decision was made ex-parte. Rana Abdul Hamid, the lawyer who was representing Sarabjit, told media persons after the verdict, "I could not be present in the court as I am a government lawyer. Another lawyer, who was to represent him, was in some other court and before he could have reached there the petition was dismissed."
Again, the lawyer filed a 'reconsideration appeal' before the Supreme Court but the registrar of the court refused to entertain the application as it was not maintainable.
During those days a new development occurred when an Indian citizen, Kashmir Singh, was released after 20 years of his imprisonment in Pakistani jails by the efforts of a prominent human rights activist, Mr. Ansar Burney, former federal minister of human rights in the cabinet of General Musharraf. When Kashmir Singh went to India he declared that he was an Indian agent in Pakistan and was sent by the Indian intelligence agency, the RAW.
Kashmir Singh's revelation completely destroyed Sarabjit Singh's case and there was a move from religious and anti-India parties to hang him immediately and not to commute his death sentence. General Musharraf's government fixed his execution for April 30, 2008 and issued the black warrant. However, because of pressure from human rights bodies, India and other international organizations, General Musharraf deferred his execution for a further 30 days. This was done so that the Pakistan People's Party-led government, which had just assumed power at the time, could review his case following India's appeal for clemency. Since that time the government of Zardari-Gilani has stopped the execution in general for indefinite period.
To date his mercy petition is lying before the president of Pakistan and he currently lives in a four by six feet room known as a death cell. He had been there since 1991 and wears ankle chains and at all times. He is allowed a period of one hour for exercise daily and this is the only time he sees the outside world. His health has deteriorated and at present his eye sight is weak and he cannot walk properly due to infections in both legs.
Mr. Awais Sheikh, a human rights lawyer and chairperson of Peace Initiative between India and Pakistan, has taken his case after the rejection of the mercy appeal from the Supreme Court in 2008. He visited the village of Sarabjit Singh in Amritsar, India, and collected information about him and Manjit Singh, allegedly the culprit of bomb blasts of 1990. He has been able to arrange two meetings in Pakistan with family members including his sister, wife and children.
Mr. Sheikh filed first mercy petition to the president of Pakistan on behalf of Sarabjit Singh in July 2009, the second one on February 14, 2010 and third and last on April 4, 2011 when the alleged culprit, Manjeet Singh was arrested in India on charges of cheating. Mr. Sheikh went to India and collected more information about Manjit Singh including his regular visits to Pakistan during the bomb blasts in 1990, his identification by ration card and his arrest in Canada after bomb blasts. He submitted all this information in the third and last mercy petition before the president of Pakistan.
No reply or acknowledgement from president house he has received yet.
He also filed a new application in the Supreme Court for reopening the case on March 6, 2011 after taking all evidences of involvement of Manjit Singh whose name was mentioned in the original FIR. This information also forwarded to President Zardari but, once again, no action has been yet taken to investigate the case.
Mr. Awais Sheikh was also persecuted by the media and the anti-India lobby as a traitor and anti- Pakistan for helping Sarabjit Singh. He was asked to vacate his office by his landlord under pressure from the anti-India lobby and once his office was ransacked.
More than 100,000 persons from India including, prominent Muslim leaders, intellectuals, high profile personalities from the film industry, lawyers and activists of civil society, signed a petition for the release of Surabjit. The signatures were sent to president of Pakistan.
When Sarabjit was arrested on entering Pakistan illegally by crossing the Indian border, during those days Pakistan was under pressure from the international community to wind up its policy for the establishment of Khalistan, a Sikh based independent state in India. In the late 1980's during the period of military dictator, General Zia ul Haq, Pakistan was accused of running training camps for Sikh militants in Pakistan and establishing a Sikh state inside the India. With the change of the governments in Pakistan the policies were also changed in context to India and Sikhs, like Sarabjit, were arrested in Pakistan on various charges including on spying and terrorism.
In the early 90s there was high tension and threats of war between India and Pakistan after winding up the policy for creating Khalistan. There was suddenly an increase in the terrorist attacks witnessed in Indian held Kashmir by Jihadi groups from Pakistan and India accused Pakistan of involvement. Meanwhile, after this policy was also adopted in India hundreds of Pakistanis, with their family members, were arrested as Pakistani agents. It is largely because of this that the decision of the trial court to award the death sentence to Sarabjit Singh was generally welcomed in Pakistan and no one took the notice of unfair trial.
CONCERNING MANJIT SINGH:
Manjit Singh operates under many aliases and was arrested in London and Canada for cheating, fraud and murder. His name was mentioned in the first information report (FIR) of four bomb blasts in three districts of Punjab province but after the arrest of Sarabjit Singh his name was amended in FIR with Manjit Singh alias Sarabjit Singh son of Mohanga Singh. According to the National Post of Canada, he is known as Manjit Singh Ratu, Manjit Singh aka (alias) Mumtaz Sharif Ratu, aka Mohammad Ratu, an Indian national and Punjabi journalist. He faced charges of fraud, terrorism, assassination and espionage.
Punjab Newsline, India, reported on December 17, 2010 that: ".......Manjit Singh Rattu infamous journalist who is wanted in many countries was arrested by Haryana police in a case of fraud registered against him in Panchkula. He lives under different names and is suspected of bomb blasts in Pakistan. The Sarbajit Singh of Bhikiwind was convicted in the name of Manjit Singh. Paper says Manjit Singh Rattu, he is also known a number of names – Manjit Singh M. Singh, A. Mann Mumtaz Sharif Rattu, Dr. A. S. Sandhu, Dr. M. S. Rattu, Mohammed Sharif Rattu, was some time back arrested near Toranto on two counts of fraud involving over US$ 10,000 by Peel regional police of Canada."
After his arrest he confessed before the court in India that he had gone to Pakistan in 1983.
It is claimed by the his lawyer and family members that the actual man who did the blasts had visited Pakistan during the case proceedings in the trial court and had married with a Pakistani woman who was the daughter of an government officer and the then chief minister of Pakistan Punjab province had also attended his marriage but because of his marriage with the government officer's daughter the authorities overlooked the identity of the groom.
The lawyer of Sarabjit Singh, Mr. Sheikh, informed the Supreme Court through his application for reconsideration of death sentence on March 6, 2011 that Manjeet Singh is an international swindler and is a member of an criminal syndicate. He is the real culprit behind the blasts in Pakistan. In 1990 when the bomb blasts took place the Manjeet Singh was present in Pakistan. The lawyer has attached evidence about proof of presence of Manjit Singh in Pakistan at the time of the blasts, his involvement in fraud and murder cases, his mysterious/suspicious activities in Pakistan and the affidavit of Syed Islam Shah (retired) deputy controller of Radio Pakistan confirming his meeting with Manjit Singh in 1990 with his application for reconsideration of the case.
The lawyer also attached the report Canadian police officer confirming his arrest on charges of murder and fraud cases in Canada and record of record published in international media.
The federal cabinet decided on July 2, 2008 to commute the death sentence However, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan has also announced that death sentences will be commuted in his first press conference after taking the oath of president ship. The prime minister also announced on June 21, 2008, that death sentences will be commuted to life imprisonment but he has failed to issue the notification.
In Pakistan more than 7,500 persons have been on death row for many years, among them are 42 women and two children. The former prime minister and founder of ruling party, Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, also commuted the death sentence during his government but was nevertheless hanged by the then military rulers. The wife of the president Asif Zardari and former Prime Minister, Ms. Benazir Bhutto has pledged several times to abolish the death sentences.
Please see the attachment of evidences:
Criminal Review Petition:
from Muhammad Islam Shah, former Deputy Controller, Radio
Please write the letters to authorities to commute the death sentence of Sarabjit Singh who was sentenced to death on mistaken identity and served 21 years in the death cell. Please urge that he should be released immediately and prosecute all responsible persons who involved him in the bomb blasts. He must be provided medical treatment and compensation for the loss of 21 years of his life.
The AHRC is writing a separate letter to the concerned UN agencies for their intervention into this matter.
To support this appeal, please click .here.