Eighty-six years after revolutionary Bhagat Singh was hanged for the murder of a British police officer, a Pakistani lawyer is fighting to prove the legendary Indian freedom fighter’s innocence in a Lahore court. Advocate Imtiaz Rashid Qureshi filed a fresh petition yesterday in the Lahore High Court for the early hearing of his case to prove Singh’s innocence. The division bench of the Lahore High Court had in February last year asked the chief justice of Pakistan to constitute a larger bench to hear the petition by Qureshi, who runs the Lahore-based Bhagat Singh Memorial Foundation. But no action has been taken yet.
In the petition, Qureshi had said Singh was a freedom fighter and fought for independence of undivided India. Many Pakistanis, especially in the Punjabi-speaking Lahore area, consider Singh a hero. Qureshi told PTI that Singh is respected even today in the subcontinent not only by Indians but also by Pakistanis. Even the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had twice paid tribute to him, he added. “It is a matter of national importance.” His petition wants the court set aside the sentence of Singh by exercising principles of review and order the government to honour him with a state award.
Singh was hanged by British rulers on March 23, 1931 at the age of 23 in Lahore, after being tried under charges for hatching a conspiracy against the colonial government. The case was filed against Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru for allegedly killing British police officer John P Saunders. Qureshi said he hopes the case will be heard this month. He said he has also written to the federal government for erecting a statue of Singh at Shadman Chowk in central Lahore where he was hanged along with Sukhdev and Rajguru.
“I have written to the government for building a statue of Singh but has not yet got any response from it in this regard,” he added. He said Singh was initially jailed for life but later awarded death sentence in another “fabricated case”.
In 2014, Lahore police searched through records of the Anarkali police station on the court’s order and managed to find the First Information Report on Saunders’ killing in 1928. A copy of the FIR was provided to Qureshi on the court’s order.
Written in Urdu, the FIR was registered with the Anarkali police station on December 17, 1928 at 4.30 pm against two ‘unknown gunmen’. The case was registered under sections 302, 1201 and 109 of Indian Penal Code. Singh’s name was not mentioned in the FIR even though he was eventually handed down the death sentence for the murder.
Qureshi said special judges of the tribunal handling Singh’s case awarded death sentence to him without hearing the 450 witnesses in the case. Singh’s lawyers were not given the opportunity to cross-examine them. “I will establish Bhagat Singh’s innocence in the Saunders case,” he said.