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UK lawyer takes up case of condemned Indian

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News

Sarabjit Singh's wife Sukhpreet Kaur holds a photograph of her husband
Sarabjit Singh's family has fought for nearly two decades to win his release

A British lawyer has launched an international campaign to secure the immediate release of an Indian man sentenced to death in Pakistan.

Jas Uppal said she was inspired to launch the campaign to secure the release of Sarabjit Singh after reading about his plight on the BBC News website.

Pakistan's Supreme Court upheld the hanging of Mr Singh in June for spying and carrying out four bomb attacks that killed 14 people in the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Faisalabad in 1990.

The court dismissed his petition to review his death sentence, which was handed down in 1991. Mr Singh's lawyers at the time failed to appear for the hearing.

He argues that he is a poor farmer - the victim of mistaken identity - who strayed drunk from his border village in to Pakistan.

But Pakistani officials say that Sarabjit Singh is actually Manjit Singh, who was arrested while trying to slip back into India.

Manjit Singh was found guilty of spying and carrying out the four bombings.

'Serious questions'

Lawyer Ms Uppal told the BBC News website: "I had never heard about this man before then, but was immediately interested in the case because my parents come from Punjab, as does Sarabjit Singh."

Jas Uppal
The Indian government has done very little to help Sarabjit Singh since his conviction
Jas Uppal

She has set up a website - www.freesarabjitsingh.com - to highlight his plight and is lobbying human rights groups and lawyers around the world, asking them to intervene.

"After reading about the case on the BBC website I then made a few inquiries of my own," she said.

"It did not take me long to discover that this man was prosecuted and convicted in English - when he speaks only Punjabi and Urdu - and that there are other serious questions over the fairness of his trial, including allegations that he was tortured in custody and forced to confess.

"While his family have been pleading with Indian and Pakistani politicians over the last 19 years to raise awareness of his case, the fact is that officials in both countries are callously indifferent to his plight."

She says an honourable exception is Mr Singh's current lawyer in Pakistan, Awaish Sheikh.

He has provided his services free of charge to Mr Singh, who has no legal representation in India.

Another person who has pledged support is renowned Indian film director Mahesh Bhatt.

Ms Uppal argues that it is "shocking" that Mr Singh has spent 19 years in solitary confinement.

'Political manoeuvrings'

Until the recent intervention of a human rights group from Canada, he was imprisoned in shackles, she adds.

"There are so many questions surrounding his case," said Ms Uppal.

"His identity was never verified or proved in court and no forensic evidence was provided at his trial to link him to the bomb attacks.

"The trial was conducted in English - Mr Singh does not speak or understand English - and an interpreter was not provided."

Ms Uppal says that his trail was fast tracked and that the main witness has repeatedly changed his version of events.

Swapandeep Kaur shows off a photograph of her father Sarabjit Singh
Swapandeep Kaur with a photo of her father, Sarabjit Singh

She says that while the Pakistani authorities say that the man who carried out the attacks was an orthodox Sikh, Sarabjit Singh only rarely wears the traditional Sikh turban and does not have a beard.

"Publicly it appears that the Indian government has done very little to help Sarabjit Singh since his conviction, while the Pakistani authorities do little to alleviate his suffering by constantly deferring his death penalty by a few months."

The Indian government argues that it is trying to secure his release - and that it has repeatedly asked Pakistan for him to be pardoned on humanitarian grounds.

Mr Singh's hanging was most recently postponed in 2009 after Pakistan's Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, intervened in the case.

In 2008, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf rejected his mercy petition and signed his death warrant.

"I believe that ultimately this man is being caught up in the political manoeuvrings of Delhi and Islamabad," Ms Uppal said.

"There is speculation that Pakistan wants the return of some of its prisoners held in India in exchange for the release of Sarabjit Singh.

"My aim is to make ordinary people aware of the terrible suffering - and the grievous miscarriage of justice - that this man has experienced."



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