Grieving daughter of Sarabjit appeals to PM

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Bhikiwind, Amritsar, Mar 16 (UNI) A shocked and grieving daughter today made a passionate appeal to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the freedom of her father, whom she had never seen till date.

''I want to see my father'', the 17-year-old Poonam, daughter of Sarabjit Singh, the condemned Indian prisoner in a Pakistani jail, said reacting to news reports that her father could be hanged next month after the rejection of the review mercy petition by President Pervez Musharraf.

Poonam was born after her father crossed into Pakistan in early 1990, never to return home. She along with her mother, Sukhpreet Kaur and elder sister Swapandeep were weeping sitting before the television hoping that the news emanating from Islamabad regarding Sarabjit's hanging was not true. In fact a wave of anger swept across this border town of Bhikiwind and shopkeepers downed their shutters and shouted slogans against Pakistan and against Pervez Musharraf. A total bandh will be observed in the town tomorrow.

''I call upon the Prime Minister to directly take up the matter with Musharraf and get my husband freed,'' Sukhpreet said while talking to mediapersons at her residence here.

''If the Indian government had sincerely pursued the case of my husband, he would have been set free,'' she said while pointing to the case of another Indian prisoners Kashmir Singh who came back to India this month after spending 35 years in prisons across the border. She even spoke of her meetings with the Prime Minister and former president A P J Abdul Kalam.

''The light seems to have gone out of our lives,'' the elder daughter Swapandeep said on reaching home from Jalandhar, where she works.

Sarabjit, hailing from Sursingh village, was accused of carrying out three separate bombings in Lahore, which claimed the lives of 14 people and injured dozens. He was sentenced to death for his alleged role in acts of terrorism.

But the Punjab farmhand's family succeeded in waging an unprecedented public campaign for his release. Politicians, human rights activists and film stars - including Shah Rukh Khan - had joined the Bikhiwind family's campaign for his release.

Sarabjit's sister, Dalbir Kaur, a village-level politician, who was away to Delhi too succeeded in mobilising support for the release of her brother. She at one stage even threatened to immolate herself.

Pakistani authorities have all along claimed that Sarabjit Singh was not innocent as was being projected at different quarters. The first of the bomb blast was at Lahore's Chowk Bhatti Gate on May 18, 1990. Eyewitnesses to the bombing claimed to have seen Sarabjit Singh, clean-shaven and impersonating as a policeman, arrive with a bag containing the explosive device, which he left with a local shopkeeper on the pretext that he was going to visit a nearby shrine. At Bhawana Bazaar, where the next bomb went off, eyewitnesses again claimed that Sarabjit Singh had left an explosive-packed bag amidst the crowd around a fruit-juice stall.

Finally, the conductor of a bus that was bombed at Nizambad Chowk on July 28, 1990, identified Sarabjit Singh as the individual who had left a bag on the bus before alighting.

Sarabjit never identified himself to his interrogators by his real name nor did he disclose his identity at any stage during the trial or even in his own confessional statement. Pakistani prosecutors and witnesses described him throughout the legal process as 'Manjit Singh'.

The Session Court, the High Court and the Supreme Court in Pakistan had all verified his death sentence. His clemency petition was rejected by the Pakistan President and the review petition was again turned this month.

The family members of Sarabjit Singh have all along claimed that he is a simple and gentle member of a farmer family. They claimed that while driving his tractor in his fields he crossed the border by mistake and reached Pakistan where he was arrested and later accused of terrorist activities.

In the mercy petition filed before the Pakistan President, Sarabjit's lawyer, Rana Hamid said, ''In the Islam religion, there is a provision to forgive any non-Muslim. Islam considers the forgiver 'The Great.''' The appeal said India-Pakistan relations will improve if Sarabjit is sent back home.

UNI HS RP RN1927

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