Mistaken identity: Sarjeet, not Sarabjeet, to be sent back to India

Published: June 27, 2012

Surjeet Singh has completed his life term after his death sentence was commuted to a life term in 1989. PHOTO: FILE

Surjeet Singh has completed his life term after his death sentence was commuted to a life term in 1989.  PHOTO: EXPRESS Surjeet Singh has completed his life term after his death sentence was commuted to a life term in 1989. PHOTO: FILE
ISLAMABAD: 

A case of mistaken identity turned what should have been a moving  occasion into international embarrassment on Tuesday.

What was to be the overdue release of an Indian national named Sarjeet Singh, who had been in Pakistani custody for over 30 years serving life imprisonment, was reported as the release of notorious Indian spy Sarabjeet Singh, who has also been in jail in Pakistan for over two decades.

Sarabjeet was sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court for his involvement in a string of deadly bombings in Punjab in the ’80s and beginning of the ’90s. All pleas for clemency have thus far been rejected in Sarabjeet’s case – which has been taken up by not only the Indian government but by rights activists on humanitarian grounds. After the rejection of several mercy petitions in the past, he moved a fresh plea with President Zardari. His fifth and final petition carried the signatures of 100,000 Indians.

The news of the convicted spy’s release expectedly sparked off congratulatory reactions on both sides of the border – including by his family. However, it later turned out that the man being released was Sarjeet, not Sarabjeet, Singh – which was clarified close to midnight. It is unclear how the mix-up took place – whether it was official quarters whose information was mistaken or if the reporting by the media was the guilty party.

Who is Sarjeet

Farhatullah Babar told The Express Tribune that the office of the President had no role in the release of Sarjeet. He recalled that the death sentence awarded to him by a military court in October 1985 had already been commuted into life imprisonment in 1989.

Babar said then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, on the advice of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, had commuted Sarjeet Singh’s sentence into life imprisonment. “In the first tenure of Benazir Bhutto, all the capital sentences given by the military courts were commuted to life imprisonment,” he said adding that it was part of a general amnesty.

According to him, the law ministry has sent a summary to the interior ministry for the release of Sarjeet Singh, who had already completed his term in prison. “He has already completed 22 years. He cannot be kept in jail anymore,” Babar said.

He will be released following clearance from the interior ministry. Under the procedure, the interior ministry will inform the foreign office to contact the Indian authorities through diplomatic channels for a date of release. It is expected that Singh can be repatriated in the next few days once the foreign ministries of the two countries complete the documentation process.

“I once again want to clarify that President Zardari has no role in commuting the sentence of Sarjeet Singh” he reiterated.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2012.

Correction: Earlier, the word “summary” was misspelled in the story. The error has been rectified.

Reader Comments (25)

  • Babloo
    Jun 27, 2012 - 4:40AM

    So sad.
    Mr Surjeet, was under illegal confinement since 2010, after expiry of his 20 year plus term for the crime of straying accross the border in a drunken state, that led to the charge of spying.
    Regarding Mr Sarabjeet, it was a sad joke on his family.
    India should take note of the reaction in Pakistan and the tone and tenor of the clarification by the FO, following the erroneous news of Mr Sarabjeet’s release. It reveals a lot.

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  • Ali Kazim
    Jun 27, 2012 - 4:52AM

    What a timely reply. After hours of debate on media, you come up with this!

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  • faraz
    Jun 27, 2012 - 5:24AM

    Such bongis at the highest level of the state can only occur in Pakistan. It’s as if the office clerk mailed the letter at the wrong address, but corrected it the next day

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  • SM
    Jun 27, 2012 - 6:33AM

    Does it need a comment on the competence of our media persons and all expert self-proclaimed analysts who discussed this news item???

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  • jhun
    Jun 27, 2012 - 7:13AM

    It’s good to see that a terrorist responsible for the killing of poor innocent people is not being released. People like these should rot in jail.

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  • American Desi
    Jun 27, 2012 - 7:38AM

    @faraz: Take some heart! Incompetency is not the forte of only Pakistanis! Sometime back India released a list of most wanted criminals in Pakistan and it turned out one of them was living in India freely without any charges!

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  • Mirza
    Jun 27, 2012 - 7:42AM

    Lot of egg on the faces of many people paritularly JI Chief and his rightwing supporters. It is a shame that people are kept in jail despite their term is long over.

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  • Jun 27, 2012 - 7:49AM

    Vienna,June 27,2012
    Whoever may be in the media or troika establishment has caused
    this confusion should be assured that people on both the sides do
    verify according to their own procedure and standards.It makes no
    difference as far as value of life Sarabjit,Sarajit or Sarbat. Besides
    releasing a person unjustly held in prison after his term over does
    not need presidential intervention unless the president´s office itself
    a doll´s office.
    Taravadu Taranga Trust for Media Monitoring TTTMM India
    –Kulamarva Balakrishna

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  • Its (still) Econonmy Stupid
    Jun 27, 2012 - 8:20AM

    It was nothing but testing of waters and some where the line as it happened with the liberal visa regime was pushed off the track.

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  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Jun 27, 2012 - 8:21AM

    ET did not mention as what was the offense of Sarjeet Singh for which he was arrested and confined to jail and now will be released.

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  • BlackJack
    Jun 27, 2012 - 8:53AM

    Seems strange. How did President Zardari’s name get involved in this in the first place if this is just a regular completion of sentence and release case. I am happy for Sarjeet Singh (he has suffered enough), but am wondering whether the govt decided to backtrack on Sarabjeet Singh given the hue and cry that emerged on announcement.

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  • Yazid Khan Bugti
    Jun 27, 2012 - 9:11AM

    To avert yet another embarrassment, kindly spell ‘summary’ correctly in your report. Many thanks.

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  • Akhtar
    Jun 27, 2012 - 9:46AM

    Goof up at the highest level.. can only happen in pakistan. This country should get medal for misdeeds, missed opportunities, wrong news, false propaganda, distorted facts and history… we are the best in the world for these.

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  • Babar
    Jun 27, 2012 - 9:57AM

    @Babloo let India take any notice it wants to, we couldn’t care less.
    Sarabjeet is a terrorist and like Ajmal Kasab deserves capital punishment, I rest my case.

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  • Nand
    Jun 27, 2012 - 10:01AM

    Yesterday at 7.15 P.M, Pakistan Presidental spokesman came on Indian TV Live and confirmed that Sarjeet Singh was to be released. 3-4 hours later it was a flip-flop.

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  • Ghaznavi
    Jun 27, 2012 - 10:14AM

    India remains obsessed with Pakistan. They keep sending RAW trained terrorists across the border to kill & maim Pakistanis. And the rest of them come this website to spill their hate. Shame on you Indians shame!!

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  • erudite
    Jun 27, 2012 - 10:22AM

    Can we expect anything better from this incompetent government? How can it handle grave external affairs which is still failed to handle the internal affairs of Pakistan. An embarrassment for the whole nation because of its non-serious attitude..

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  • Truth is out there
    Jun 27, 2012 - 10:54AM

    Surabjeet killed innocent Pakistanis. He needs to be hanged from the neck until he is dead. This will be an example for all Indians who think they can kill Pakistanis and get away with it

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  • Tony Singh
    Jun 27, 2012 - 10:55AM

    It only happens in Pakistan! The Pakistan’s president’s office is run by nocturnal creatures. That is they realised their :mistake: at night.

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  • Maoist
    Jun 27, 2012 - 11:40AM

    @ Akhtar

    India is also on the top as far as goof ups are concerned. Remember the hafeez centre shopkeepers and guard whose pictures were displayed on media as terrorists?
    Only Indians can beat Pakistanis in goofiness and stupidity.

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  • M M Malik
    Jun 27, 2012 - 1:31PM

    Release Sarabjeet also as a gesture of goodwill.

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  • Saad BP
    Jun 27, 2012 - 1:31PM

    @Babloo: life imprisonment in Pakistan is for 25 years. And what about the Pakistanis in illegal confinement in Indian jails? Any pearls of wisdom?

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  • BaBa Blacksheep
    Jun 27, 2012 - 3:54PM

    Thanks god. NOW i can sleep tight.

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  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Jun 27, 2012 - 4:14PM

    @Maoist:
    There is major difference between an intelligence alert and an official government announcement. Intelligence inputs are rarely razor sharp accurate.

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  • Maoist
    Jun 27, 2012 - 6:05PM

    @ Yuri

    Yeah right!!! Stop being defensive. The pictures and identities of ‘terrorists’ were given out OFFICIALLY to the media by your government and made India a laughing stock for the world. Your silly arguments can’t wash away this stigma.

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