Sarabjit Singh, the son of Sulakhan Singh, a farmer by profession, was a resident of Bhikhiwind village, five miles from the Pakistani border and 45 kilometers from Amritsar, Punjab, India. He had illegally crossed the Indian border at Qasoor, the border city ofPunjab,Pakistan, in the late hours of August 29 and 30, 1990, in a drunken condition.
In those days there was no barbed wire barrier between the Indian and Pakistani borders, however, there were check posts all around and there was also a no man’s land between the borders themselves. At that time he was 28 years of age. He was arrested at the Pakistani check post by the officials of ISI and kept in their custody for nine days before being produced in court.
When Sarabjit was arrested on entering Pakistan illegally, during those days Pakistanwas under pressure from the international community to wind up its policy for the establishment of Khalistan, a Sikh based independent state in India. In the late 1980’s during the period of military dictator, General Zia ul Haq, Pakistan was accused of running training camps for Sikh militants in Pakistanand establishing a Sikh state inside the India. With the change of the governments in Pakistanthe policies were also changed in context to Indiaand Sikhs, like Sarabjit, were arrested in Pakistan on various charges including on spying and terrorism.
In the early 90s there was high tension and threats of war between India and Pakistan after winding up the policy for creating Khalistan. There was suddenly an increase in the terrorist attacks witnessed in Indian held Kashmir by Jihadi groups from Pakistan and India accused Pakistan of involvement. Meanwhile, after this policy was also adopted in India hundreds of Pakistanis, with their family members, were arrested as Pakistani agents. It is largely because of this that the decision of the trial court to award the death sentence to Sarabjit Singh was generally welcomed in Pakistan and no one took the notice of unfair trial.
He was eventually produced before the judicial magistrate in one FIR, a police case, in the name of Manjeet Singh son of Mohanga Singh for conducting four bomb blasts in the three cities of Punjab province namely,Lahore,Multan andFaisalabad on July 29, 1990, killing 14 persons.
Before his production in court, Sarabjit was told by the ISI personnel that he would be charged for illegally entering Pakistan. He was allegedly implicated in the bomb blast which occurred one month before he crossed the Indian border and entered in to Pakistani area. His statement under section 342 of Pakistan Penal Code was taken where he denied the charges and recorded that he is not the Manjeet Singh whose name was mentioned in the FIR. In his confessional statement he refused all allegations mentioned in the FIR and said that the real accused person, Manjeet Singh, was arrested by the agencies and was released and allowed to run away but that he was falsely implicated in the case.
He was tried in a Special Court on terrorism charges. During the trial he informed the court that he was not the Manjeet Singh mentioned in the FIR and that his name was Sarabjit Singh, the son of Sulakhan Singh. However, he was told by the magistrate that his name is mentioned as Manjeet Singh alias Sarabjit Singh son of Mohanga Singh. He also informed the court that his father’s name is Salukhan Singh but this was not given any weight by the court.
The trial court awarded him the death sentence under section of 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) of Pakistan Penal Code and section 3 of explosive substance on August 15, 1991, a significant day as it is the day of independence of India.
The sole eye witness of the bomb blasts in Lahore, Mr. Saleem Shoukat, said in an interview with Indian television channels in September 2005 that he was tortured to give evidence against the Sarabjit leading to his conviction. He was told by the prosecution lawyer that he should identify Sarabjit as the main accused in the serial blasts and he had to do that. He admitted that he had not seen the accused as he had fainted during the blasts.
Sarabjit Singh, according to the petition of reconsideration filed in the Supreme Court on March 2011, strongly agitated that he has been substituted as Manjit Singh with mala-fide intention. He has been made a victim of false identification.
Sarabjit says that when he was given the death sentence by the trial court on the Independence Day of his country his hands were bound and he was blindfolded. Furthermore, when he was sent to jail after sentencing the inmates beat him as a gesture of welcoming his sentence.
According to the Hindustan Times, in an article dated December 7, 2010, Sarbjit Singh commented about his trial in a letter written in Hindi in which he states: “However, with the help of deceit and lies finally I was made Manjeet Singh by Pakistan and was convicted in the bomb blast case”.
During the trial he could not have a lawyer because he did not have any money with him and his family did not know where he was. Also, the court totally ignored the basic requirement of justice and failed to provide with a lawyer.
His appeal against the decision of the trial court was turned down by theLahore high court on December 10, 2001.
The Supreme Court also quashed his appeal in September 2005, saying that the review petition was not filed within the time period as mentioned in the Law.
Another review petition was filed in the Supreme Court which was dismissed in haste by the court in 2009. The two member bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Fayyaz Ahmed, issued notice for the hearing on June 10, 2009 and when the lawyer was not there the next date was fixed for June 26. As the lawyer was busy in another court the bench dismissed the appeal and the decision was made ex-parte.
Rana Abdul Hamid, the lawyer who was representing Sarabjit, told media persons after the verdict, “I could not be present in the court as I am a government lawyer. Another lawyer, who was to represent him, was in some other court and before he could have reached there the petition was dismissed.”
Again, the lawyer filed a ‘reconsideration appeal’ before the Supreme Court but the registrar of the court refused to entertain the application as it was not maintainable.
During those days a new development occurred when an Indian citizen, Kashmir Singh, was released after 20 years of his imprisonment in Pakistani jails by the efforts of a human rights activist, Mr. Ansar Burney, former federal minister of human rights in the cabinet of General Musharraf. When Kashmir Singh went to India he declared that he was an Indian agent in Pakistan and was sent by the Indian intelligence agency, the RAW.
Kashmir Singh’s revelation completely destroyed Sarabjit Singh’s case and there was a move from religious and anti-India parties to hang him immediately and not to commute his death sentence. General Musharraf’s government fixed his execution for April 30, 2008 and issued the black warrant. However, because of pressure from human rights bodies, India and other international organizations, General Musharraf deferred his execution for a further 30 days. This was done so that the PPP-led government, which had just assumed power at the time, could review his case following India’s appeal for clemency. Since that time the government of Zardari – Gilani has stopped the execution in general for indefinite period.
To date his mercy petition is lying before the president of Pakistan and he currently lives in a four by six feet room known as a death cell. He had been there since 1991 and wears ankle chains and at all times. He is allowed a period of one hour for exercise daily and this is the only time he sees the outside world. His health has deteriorated and at present his eye sight is weak and he cannot walk properly due to infections in both legs.
Mr Awais Sheikh, a human rights lawyer and chairperson of Peace Initiative between India and Pakistan, has taken his case after the rejection of the mercy appeal from the Supreme Court in 2008. He visited the village of Sarabjit Singh in Amritsar, India, and collected information about him and Manjit Singh, allegedly the culprit of bomb blasts of 1990. He has been able to arrange two meetings in Pakistan with family members including his sister, wife and children.
Mr. Sheikh filed first mercy petition to the president of Pakistan on behalf of Sarabjit Singh in July 2009, the second one on February 14, 2010 and third and last on April 4, 2011 when the alleged culprit, Manjeet Singh was arrested in India on charges of cheating. Mr. Sheikh went to India and collected more information about Manjit Singh including his regular visits to Pakistan during the bomb blasts in 1990, his identification by ration card and his arrest in Canada after bomb blasts. He submitted all this information in the third and last mercy petition before the president of Pakistan.
No reply or acknowledgement from president house he has received yet.
He also filed a new application in the Supreme Court for reopening the case on March 6, 2011 after taking all evidences of involvement of Manjit Singh whose name was mentioned in the original FIR. This information also forwarded to President Zardari but, once again, no action has been yet taken to investigate the case.
Mr Awais Sheikh was also persecuted by the media and the anti-India lobby as a traitor and anti- Pakistan for helping Sarabjit Singh. He was asked to vacate his office by his landlord under pressure from the anti-India lobby and once his office was ransacked.
More than 100,000 persons from India including, prominent Muslim leaders, intellectuals, high profile personalities from the film industry, lawyers and activists of civil society, signed a petition for the release of Surabjit. The signatures were sent to president of Pakistan.
Who is Manjit Singh?
Manjit Singh operates under many aliases and was arrested in London and Canada for cheating, fraud and murder. His name was mentioned in the first information report (FIR) of four bomb blasts in three districts of Punjab province but after the arrest of Sarabjit Singh his name was amended in FIR with Manjit Singh alias Sarabjit Singh son of Mohanga Singh. According to the National Post of Canada, he is known as Manjit Singh Ratu, Manjit Singh aka (alias) Mumtaz Sharif Ratu, aka Mohammad Ratu, an Indian national and Punjabi journalist. He faced charges of fraud, terrorism, assassination and espionage.
Punjab Newsline, India, reported on December 17, 2010 that: “…….Manjit Singh Rattu infamous journalist who is wanted in many countries was arrested by Haryana police in a case of fraud registered against him in Panchkula. He lives under different names and is suspected of bomb blasts in Pakistan.
The Sarbajit Singh of Bhikiwind was convicted in the name of Manjit Singh. Paper says Manjit Singh Rattu, he is also known a number of names – Manjit Singh M. Singh, A. Mann Mumtaz Sharif Rattu, Dr. A. S. Sandhu, Dr. M. S. Rattu, Mohammed Sharif Rattu, was some time back arrested near Toranto on two counts of fraud involving over US$ 10,000 by Peel regional police of Canada.”
After his arrest he confessed before the court in India that he had gone to Pakistan in 1983.
It is claimed by the his lawyer and family members that the actual man who did the blasts had visited Pakistan during the case proceedings in the trial court and had married with a Pakistani woman who was the daughter of an government officer and the then chief minister of Pakistan Punjab province had also attended his marriage but because of his marriage with the government officer’s daughter the authorities overlooked the identity of the groom.
The lawyer of Sarabjit Singh, Mr. Sheikh, informed the Supreme Court through his application for reconsideration of death sentence on March 6, 2011 that Manjeet Singh is an international swindler and is a member of an criminal syndicate. He is the real culprit behind the blasts in Pakistan. In 1990 when the bomb blasts took place the Manjeet Singh was present in Pakistan.
The lawyer has attached evidence about proof of presence of Manjit Singh in Pakistan at the time of the blasts, his involvement in fraud and murder cases, his mysterious/suspicious activities in Pakistan and the affidavit of Syed Islam Shah (retired) deputy controller of Radio Pakistan confirming his meeting with Manjit Singh in 1990 with his application for reconsideration of the case.
The lawyer also attached the report Canadian police officer confirming his arrest on charges of murder and fraud cases in Canada and record of record published in international media.
Sarabjit Singh was killed in Lahore prison on April 26, 2013 when he was struck on the head in an attack by two Muslim fundamentalists. He was hit with bricks and his neck and torso cut with sharp weapons from which wounds he subsequently died in hospital on May 2, 2013.
Sarabjit Singh was arrested on August 30, 1990 for a bombing and his case is an example of a miscarriage of justice where mistaken identity was presented as the sole evidence of his crime. The victim’s real name was Sarabjit Singh but he was sentenced to death in the name of Manjeet Singh. The sole eye witness of the case told different television channels that he was forced through coercion and intimidation to give evidence against the victim.
Mr Awais Sheikh, the lawyer acting for Sarbajit was able to prove in different courts that his client was not the accused person.
Sarabjit Singh was sentenced to death on August 15, 1991 by a special court on terrorism charges and since then he remained in a six by eight death cell for 22 years. His appeals were rejected by the higher courts, including the Supreme Court of Pakistan in a very mysterious manner. Due to the moratorium on executions the only way to kill him was to do so inside the jail using the excuse that it was to take revenge of Afzal Guru, an Indian Kashmiri, who was hanged in Delhi on the charges of terrorism and an attack on the Indian parliament. Guru was accused of being an agent of the ISI.
After Singh’s extrajudicial killing in prison a strong reaction was observed, not only in Pakistan but at the international level where human rights organisations were suspicious about his death in custody where Muslim fundamentalists were allowed to carry weapons and kill the foreigner.
The Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court was approached by invisible forces to appoint a special tribunal for the probe of his assassination inside the prison. The Chief Justice appointed a tribunal under Justice Syed Mazhar Ali Akbar Naqvi with a specific time frame for the probe of six weeks. The tribunal has recorded all statements from the jail authorities, prisoners, and collected evidence but has not yet come out with the findings of the inquiry report.
The Lahore High Court Research Officer, Muhammad Ahmed Khan, who was appointed spokesperson for the tribunal, said that the inquiry had been initiated several months ago. However, Justice Naqvi had been serving on the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court for several weeks, which is why the report could not be compiled. Khan said he could not remember exactly when the inquiry was initiated. Bushra Zaman, the registrar for the tribunal, had also been transferred since and was no longer with the tribunal, he said. Khan could also not provide a timeframe for when the report could be compiled.
The independence of the judiciary always remained a major question though it showed its muscles against the Musharraf government who was, at that time, losing its grip on the government and the powerful Intelligence agencies. But it is no longer a secret that the judiciary always prefers to remain a poodle under the invisible and powerful forces. No justification has yet been given by the judiciary or particular special tribunal as to why the probe of the tribunal has been abandoned.
It has been stated unofficially by a research officer of the court that the judge has been transferred to the Rawalpindi branch of the Lahore High Court. If that is the case the excuse of being shifted to another bench cannot be accepted as a good excuse and he should have been relieved from heading the tribunal. It is also appalling that the situation has reached the extent that judicial officers are providing excuses for not completing their jobs without any reason. It is also apparent that the judiciary is in the habit of deciding cases on the whims of powerful invisible forces.
It is ostensibly an attempt to avoid the completion of the probe of into the killing of Sarabjit Singh inside the prison when all the evidence and the statements of jail authorities and prisoners have been recorded. It is nothing less than the apathy of the judicial system which does not come out with the truth. In fact, the probe was completed several months ago but is being kept in cold storage so that no blame can be placed on the state and its invisible forces for their involvement in the murder.
The government of Pakistan and the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court both have a duty to see that justice is done for Sarabjit Singh. Regardless of whether he was guilty as charged or not the state of Pakistan has a non derogable responsibility to ensure that prisoners under their charge are protected. It was reported in the international press that Singh’s killing was in revenge for the execution of Afzal Guru in Delhi. It is up to the Pakistan government to prove conclusively the real motives behind the killing.
The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the government of Pakistan to complete the probe and make the findings public. If it is not able to do this with the present tribunal then the existing judge must be replaced with another immediately so that the probe may be completed.