Sarabjit fine in Pak jail, says Surjeet Singh

Sarabjit Singh
Wagah, Jun 28: Surjeet Singh, who was released from a Pakistani jail after 31 years, today said Indian death row convict Sarabjit Singh is fine and hoped that he is freed soon.

69-year-old Surjeet Singh, who was released from Lahore's Kot Lakhpat Jail this morning, said he used to meet Sarabjit, 49, on a weekly basis in the same prison.

"He is not facing any problems there. He is fine. I used to him on a weekly basis in the prison," Surjeet told reporters here. "I hope he is released soon," he said.

Surjeet's release from prison came after reports emerged on Tuesday that Pakistan was to free Sarabjit Singh. But later, Pakistan clarified that authorities had actually ordered the release of Surjeet and not Sarabjit. Surjeet served a life term following his arrest on charges of spying in the 1980s in Pakistan.

He was given the death sentence under the Pakistan Army Act in 1985. The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1989 by then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

Sarabjit was convicted and sentenced to death for alleged involvement in a string of bomb attacks that killed 14 people in Punjab in 1990. Wearing white kurta-pajama and black turban, Surjeet Singh was extended warm welcome by the Indian authorities.

On reaching Indian territory, he hugged his all family members including his wife Harbans Kaur, his son Kulwinder Singh, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, besides people from his native village Phidde.

"I was eager to meet my children and I am keen go to the Golden Temple first before leaving for my village in Ferozepur district...I am immensely happy on being released as I could meet my family members after over the three decades," he said.

On his tenure in the Pakistani jail, he said, "The plight of a prisoner would remain like a prisoner who remains in detention all the time...So what could be said on it."

Asked about the condition of other Indian prisoners in the jail, he said, "They are provided all basic things like food, clothes, soaps and even medicines. Some Indians, who are mentally not fit, are being treated in the hospital outside the jail."

On Sarabjit Singh, Surjeet said, "Since he has been sentenced to death, he has been lodged in separate solitary cell where he is not allowed to mix up with the other prisoners of the jail except once in a week.

"Once in a week he meets other prisoners for a while. Even I met him many times...He is hale and hearty but speaks very less," he said. He claimed that all efforts for the release of Sarabjit Singh by India went in vain after it was highlighted in the media as certain groups in Pakistan opposed his release.

"I wish Sarabjit Singh is released at the earliest so that he could meet his family in India."

About the drama after Pakistani TV channels flashed that Sarabjit Singh was being released and later stated that it not Sarabjit but Surjeet, he claimed, "All this happened due to spelling mistakes as in Urdu language the spelling of Surjeet and Sarabjeet are almost similar."

He said, "Now I will make efforts to get Sarabjeet released from Pakistan...I don't know how I will do it but, certainly, I will meet the authorities concerned in India for Sarabjeet." When asked why he crossed over to Pakistan, he said, "Yes, I went there for spying."

"I was arrested around 30 years ago... I can't say about others but I can say at my level I was taken care of well..... But I do not want to go back as they may accuse me of spying again, a charge on which I was locked up," said Surjeet.

On the condition of other India prisoners in Pakistan's jails, he said, "They are provided all basic things like food clothes and soaps even medicines. Some Indians are mentally unstable and are being treated in a hospital outside the jail".

Surjeet Singh's wife Harbans Kaur, who had lost hope of seeing her husband again, said the whole village was gearing up to accord him a warm welcome.

"We will offer prayers at the Dada Sahab and bring him home..." said Kaur, who found out that Surjeet was alive only in 2004.

Gurjit Singh of Mansurwal village, who was arrested along with Surjeet on espionage charges, was released from jail in 2004 and had handed the family a letter written by Surjeet that he was serving a life term that would end on October 27, 2010.

In his long absence Surjeet Singh has lost many family members. His parents are dead and so are most of his nine sisters and brothers. He also lost one of his sons.

His son Kulwinder Singh told reporters, "I was just three years old when he left. It's been so long and we were really awaiting his release."

Earlier on being released from Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore, Surjeet Singh said, "India should release Pakistani prisoners and Pakistan should release Indian prisoners, that is all I want to say."

He said this step would help create a good atmosphere on both sides.


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