NEW DELHI: 80-year-old virologist also thanks President Zardari for his efforts
Dr Khalil Chishty was released from jail on Wednesday.
The 80-year-old Pakistani virologist, who is unable to walk on his own, had been serving a life term in prison since January last year – but the case against him had been going on for nearly two decades in Ajmer.
“I am happy to be out of jail. I believe in God and thank him. My wish is to see my family in Pakistan as soon as possible,” Chishty said upon stepping out of Ajmer central jail, adding that he would also like to thank President Asif Ali Zardari for making efforts for his release.
The court granted bail “taking note of his age and also considering that he was in Ajmer for the last 20 years … without expressing anything on the merits of the case.”
After fulfilling surety and bail bonds, Chishty was sent home when a certified copy of the Supreme Court’s order was lodged with the Ajmer jail.
As for the professor’s eventual return to Pakistan, a sympathetic Supreme Court said: “You file (such a petition)… and we would consider.”
Dr Chishty’s travails were discussed during the luncheon between President Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s in New Delhi.
Indian-born Chishty, who taught virology at the Karachi Medical College, was visiting his mother in Ajmer in 1992 when he got embroiled in a family feud that led to one his neighbours being shot dead. He has been in Ajmer since, living at his ancestral home during the 18-year trial, before eventually being jailed following his conviction in January 2011.
‘Happy but not over the moon’
Chishty is “happy but not over the moon,” his jailor Mathur said.
“Perhaps it hasn’t sunk in. Like always, he was quiet and calm and spent the day reading.”
Mathur went on to add that Chishty had been in “continuous mental and physical trauma” during his 15 months in jail, all of it spent in the prison hospital. Chishty has had two heart attacks and cannot walk unaided after he fractured his hip two years ago.
“This is the blessing of Khawaja Garibnawaz ,” said Khalil’s brother, Jamil Chishty’s on his release.
“We are happy that he will come back home,” Jamil said.
Campaign for release
The campaign to release Chishty gathered steam last year. In June, then Indian apex court judge Markandey Katju wrote to Manmohan Singh urging the prisoner be pardoned on humanitarian grounds.
“Dr Chishty likes to read Urdu and Persian literature and medical books and also borrows from the jail library,” said Salman Chishty, a local social activist who spearheaded the campaign for the professor’s release.
One of Chishty’s daughters, Amna, wrote to President Zardari before his India visit pleading him to secure her father’s release.
Chishty’s brother Jamil said the murder took place when some members of their clan, with whom the family had a property dispute, jumped onto the roof of their home to attack them. A fight broke out on the rooftop and one of the attackers, Idris, was killed.
Chishty was arrested with three of his cousins but the family claims the virologist was not at the scene when the shots were fired.
At the apex court, defence lawyer Uday Lalit had cited how his client had been convicted along with some others after being drawn into a free fight.
Sarabjit’s counsel files fresh mercy appeal before President Zardari
Dr Khalil Chishty’s release on bail has brightened up hopes for the family of an Indian prisoner on death row in Pakistan.
Sarabjit Singh, who was convicted in the 1990 serial bombings in Punjab and awarded death sentence, is currently lodged in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.
His sister Dalbir Kaur says that her family celebrated Dr Chishty’s release with the hope that the Pakistani authorities would reciprocate the move and free Sarabjit.
Kaur has visited Pakistan twice to plead for her brother’s release and has also campaigned for Dr Chishty.
However, Kaur believes that unlike her earlier attempts to secure the release of her brother, this moment in time is different since Dr Chishty has been released by the Indian Supreme Court.
Advocate Awais Sheikh, counsel for Sarabjit, told The Express Tribune that even though no legal moves had been made for Sarbjit’s release, he was hopeful that the Pakistani government would release him as a goodwill gesture. “It would reflect poorly on Pakistan if Sarabjit is not released,” he said.
He went on to add that he had filed a fresh mercy appeal a week ago before President Zardari, adding that the only avenue to secure his release was through a presidential pardon.
Sheikh claimed that Sarabjit was a victim of mistaken identity. According to him, his client was in a case in which the FIR was registered against Mangeet Singh, the real perpetrator of the 1990 blasts.
Sheikh added that Manjeet was an international swindler and militant and a member of a criminal syndicate. On the contrary, Sarbajit was a gifted artist and athlete.
Sarabjit is a resident of Amritsar’s Bhikhiwind village. He had illegally crossed the Indian border at Kasur on August 29, 1990 and was subsequently arrested and implicated in the 1990 blasts.
On Tuesday, Indian Chief Justice Markandey Katju appealed to President Zardari for the release of Sarabjit.
“I am appealing to you to order the release of Sarabjit Singh and his return to India as a humanitarian gesture,” Katju wrote in a letter he sent to the president through Pakistan’s high commissioner in New Delhi.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2012.
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