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Spy witness backs off

Sept. 4: A Pakistani who had testified against Sarabjit Singh says he was forced by police to lie in court.

Salim Shaukat’s father, Shaukat Jaan, was killed in a blast outside Lahore’s Malik Cinema on May 18, 1990. Salim was produced as prime witness by the prosecution to prove that Sarabjit, whom it identified as “Manjit Singh”, was involved.

In an exclusive interview to STAR News, Salim has said he was taken to the court by the police and forced to make false statements against the accused.

“I am not sure if he is responsible for the blasts,” Salim said. “You know that the police can make you say anything.”

Asked whether he was tutored by prosecution lawyers, Salim said: “I was told by the lawyer that I should identify Sarabjit as the main culprit for the serial blasts, and I did it.”

Salim admitted that Sarabjit had contested his claim.

“The moment I identified him as (the) culprit, Sarabjit asked me to swear by the Quran. But I declined to do so.

“Sarabjit was looking at me after my testimony, but I was helpless as I was under the influence of (the) law enforcement agencies.”

Salim’s latest statement is expected to be included as additional evidence when Sarabjit’s Pakistani lawyer files a petition before the country’s Supreme Court, requesting a review of the death sentence on the Indian.

The witness’s retraction comes after Pakistani officials repeatedly claimed that Sarabjit got a fair trial and was convicted on the basis of the strongest possible evidence.

A year after Sarabjit’s arrest in Pakistan in 1990, an anti-terrorist court sentenced him to death on the charge of carrying out serial blasts on behalf of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The sentence was recently upheld by the Pakistan Supreme Court, triggering a public outcry in India for Sarabjit’s release.

His family in Punjab insists that Sarabjit was never known as “Manjit”, had never worked for RAW and had stumbled across the border in a drunken state.

The surge in public sentiment has prompted Delhi to request Pakistan to look into the family’s claims and treat Sarabjit’s case on humanitarian grounds.

Salim today echoed the sentiment, saying: “I feel that Sarabjit Singh should be let off whether or not he was involved in the crime.”

Sarabjit’s lawyer, Rana Abdul Hamid, has cited many “legal discrepancies” in the way the Indian was prosecuted.

A statement of “confession” Sarabjit apparently made but denied during trial was presented before the court; but it mentioned neither the case number nor the FIR number. It did not say where and how Sarabjit was arrested.

Lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jehangir, too, has said the Indian was tried on the basis of a “blind” FIR that did not mention the name of the accused.

In one of the cases ' the Chowk Bhatti Gate blast case ' the prosecution had submitted a list of 89 witnesses but only 18 testified.

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