The Sarabjit Story: Two nations and many flip-flops

The Sarabjit Story: Two nations and many flip-flops

India took up case 14 years after conviction,Pak once raised false hope.

On the margins of the UN General Assembly meet in September 2005,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf and asked for the release of Sarabjit Singh,who had just been convicted by Pakistan’s supreme court of involvement in terror attacks in 1990.

This was after Sarabjit’s case had been taken up in both houses of Parliament on August 23,with the government being asked to take necessary action for his release. For the 14 years preceding that — a lower court had sentenced Sarabjit to death in 1991 — there had been no effort from the Indian side since the sentence was going through the legal processes that culminated in the supreme court verdict. The Indian government says it only swung into action after the apex court confirmed the sentence,and after New Delhi was able to officially authenticate his nationality. Click here to read: Sister who fought alone and drew in others

Sarabjit had been arrested near the Kasur border on charges of illegally crossing into Pakistan,then charged with involvement in a series of bombings in Lahore and Faisalabad.

The nearly eight years that followed India’s intervention would see many twists and turns,and more and more people taking up the matter.


In March 2008,a mercy plea by Sarabjit,one of five he eventually filed,was turned down by Musharraf. However,his execution was delayed by the Pakistani government after Singh’s family and the Indian government appealed for mercy.

His family met several prominent Pakistani politicians including former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to appeal for his release. Sharif said,“After seeing the plight of the members of Sarabjit’s family who have come to Pakistan,any person can feel the pain they are going through.”

And then external affairs minister K Natwar Singh took up Sarabjit’s case with Pakistan high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan and urged him to convey New Delhi’s hope that Islamabad would treat the matter as a humanitarian issue.

There were movements against Sarabjit too. In April 2008,a group of Pakistani students organised a march,seeking withdrawal of all moves to pardon him. Last December,a group staged an aggressive protest against Sarabjit in front of the Lahore Press Club and someof the protesters burnt Indian flags.

A British lawyer,Jas Uppal,launched an international campaign in January 2009 for his release. Uppal started an online campaign,,to urge human rights groups to intervene on his behalf. Awaish Sheikh,Sarabjit’s lawyer in Pakistan,backed the campaign,apart from opting not to charge Sarabjit for his services.

In May 2012 came a signature campaign from India and yet another appeal for clemency,this time before President Asif Ali Zardari. And June saw an apparent presidential pardon and impending release,but it was not to be.

Pakistani media reported that President Asif Ali Zardari had signed a document sent by the interior ministry commuting Sarabjit’s death sentence to life. A life sentence in Pakistan is generally 14 years,and Sarabjit,having spent 22 years in jail,was to be shortly released,the reports said. The news sparked celebrations in his home,while external affairs minister S M Krishna issued a statement of appreciation to Islamabad.

Five hours later,Pakistan issued a statement denying the reports and holding the media responsible for the confusion. It announced that the release order had in fact been for another prisoner,Surjeet Singh,who was pardoned in 1989. Sarabjit’s family condemned the incident as a deliberate and cruel joke. The flip-flop angered India and human rights groups.

The same month,Bollywood actor Salman Khan took up the cause and sought the support of people and the media for Sarabjit’s release. He launched an online petition from his NGO,Being Human.

On August 2012,Sarabjit filed with President Zardari what was to be his final appeal. This was followed by the demonstration in front of the press club in December last year.

After April 26,when he was severely injured after allegedly being attacked with bricks by jail inmates in Pakistan and admitted to intensive care,his family called for his transfer to India for treatment but the Pakistan authorities refused to move him. Before he died on Thursday,the MEA gave Pakistan the option of moving him to a “third country”.


The criminals responsible for the barbaric and murderous attack on him must be brought to justice. It is particularly regrettable that the government of Pakistan did not heed the pleas of the government of India,Sarabjit’s family and of civil society in India and Pakistan to take a humanitarian view

Manmohan Singh PM

Inhuman treatment and brutal murder… suffered unspeakable repression and torture with dignity Parkash Singh Badal Punjab CM

This House condemns the inhuman treatment meted out to Sarabjit Singh in Pakistan jail and hopes that the culprits will be brought to book


It is a cold-blooded murder. This is not the way civilised nations behave Sushma Swaraj BJP,on Twitter

The Indian high commissioner in Pakistan should be called back and diplomatic relations should be scaled down till Pakistan gives full assurance that there will be no provocation or protection for any terror activities against India and full protection will be given to Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails

Rajnath Singh BJP

Centre is unable to give a strong answer to Pakistan’s inhuman acts. Beheading of our soldiers & now Sarabjit’s death are two recent examples Narendra Modi BJP,on Twitter

Extremely anguished

Salman Khurshid Minister

Extremely inhuman and barbaric

Manish Tewary Minister

Conspiracy of ISI to disturb communal peace in India… The murder of Sarabjit Singh in an Islamic country is shameful for Pakistan… an un-Islamic act Diwan Zainul Abedin Ali Khan

Spiritual head,Ajmer dargah

Freedom at last hope they give him to his fly. We all tried,guess not hard enough Salman Khan Actor,on Twitter


August 30,1990: Sarabjit Singh arrested near Kasur border on charges of illegally crossing into Pakistan. Later charged with involvement in a series of blasts in Lahore and Faisalabad

October 3,1991: Death sentence by anti-terror court for alleged spying and carrying out the bombings

March 2006: Pakistan supreme court upholds sentence

february 19,2008: Pakistan president turns down mercy plea

February,June 2010: Two successive petitions to president


June 26,2012: Pak “announces” it is releasing Sarabjit. Hours later it says it’s Surjeet,not Sarabjit

April-May 2013: Attack on Sarabjit in jail,death in hospital