The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi plays public card for pardon

New Delhi/Islamabad, Aug. 25: Foreign minister Natwar Singh today met the Pakistan envoy and requested that Sarabjit Singh, sentenced to death in Pakistan as an Indian spy, be released. But instead of asking for clemency, he cleverly cited the growing public demand in India for Sarabjit’s release.

The minister called high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan and his deputy Munawar Syed Bhatti to South Block. He told them that Islamabad should look at the case from a humanitarian point of view and try to ascertain the claims of Sarabjit’s family and lawyers that he is innocent.

Natwar Singh mentioned the public sentiment in India that the Pakistan President should spare the life of Sarabjit, convicted of playing a role in several blasts in Pakistan as a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent.

Khan said Pakistani courts had gone through due process of the law before pronouncing the Indian ' described by the prosecution as “Manjeet Singh” ' guilty. But he assured the minister he would convey his sentiments to Islamabad.

Sources said Sarabjit would stand a better chance of getting clemency if his mother or other family members write directly to President Pervez Musharraf.

Sarabjit is waiting for his lawyers to file a review petition with the Pakistan Supreme Court, but he can also petition Musharraf for clemency.

Natwar Singh also told Khan that Indian high commission officials should be allowed to meet the condemned man. But Indian diplomats in Islamabad said they had still not been granted access to Sarabjit, lodged in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.

“We have yet to hear from Pakistan’s foreign office or the interior ministry about our request for consular access to Manjeet Singh,” a senior high commission official said in the Pakistani capital.

Pakistan foreign office spokesman Naeem Khan had said on Tuesday that his government had received the Indian request, which would be decided in accordance with local laws. At the same time, he had said the entire body of evidence had gone against “Manjeet” at his trial.

Indian high commissioner Shiv Shankar Menon had met Pakistan foreign secretary Riaz Ahmad Khan yesterday, but later said the meeting had nothing to do with Sarabjit. He had merely “discussed arrangements for the visit of the Indian foreign secretary”.

The public mood Natwar Singh spoke of was very much in evidence in Sarabjit’s hometown of Bhikiwind today, with prayers being held for him in temples and gurdwaras. A bandh was organised in support of the demand for his release.

At public rallies, residents took turns at the microphone, calling upon Musharraf to grant clemency to Sarabjit on “humanitarian grounds”.

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