My target is to get Sarabjit out of jail and take him through Wagah border to India safely. Instead of forcing an argument I would rather place emphasis on mercy. I try to prevail upon both the countries to set free each others prisoners on humanitarian grounds. I feel this is a humanitarian issue and ought to be dealt on human basis. I try my best to keep a delicate balance while gradually and cautiously pursuing my goal. The media in Pakistan which was hostile in the beginning is now at least listening to me. I am trying to assert that forgiveness is better than revenge.
– Awais Sheikh
I was preparing to meet my client once again to apprise him of my Indian tour and show him the appeal of one lakh people so that he would get new hope and will power for living a free life. But the Superintendent of the jail refused to allow me to see Sarabjit Singh again. He said that I should bring a fresh order from the Home Secretary. I gave an application for meeting Sarabjit to the Home Secretary. He sent my application to the Additional Secretary Inter Services Intelligence [AS(ISI)]. The AS(ISI) sent the application for ‘inquiry and report’ to the Jail Superintendent and Special Branch CID for comments. Twenty five days were eaten up by red tape — to no avail. As a last resort I filed a writ in the High Court stating that the Home Department is indulging in delaying tactics purposely. The Jail rules and the Basic Rights of the Constitution grant the lawyer the right to meet his client.
“Article 199 Section 1 of the Constitution of Pakistan directs Government functionary to refrain from doing anything he is not permitted by law to do or not to do anything he is required by law to do.” Chapter 5 of Jail Rules, “Every convicted prisoner shall be allowed reasonable opportunity of interviewing his relatives, friends and legal advisor for the purpose of preparing appeal.”
The Home Secretary of Punjab and Superintendent of the Jail were called to the court of Justice Ijaz Chaudhry. I was amazed and pleased with the scene. Justice Chaudhry is the same judge who had accepted the bail of Hafiz Saeed a few days back, setting him free. The Indian Government is insisting on apprehending Hafiz Saeed in connection with the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan’s stance is that the court has relieved him for lack of evidence.
In brief I was able to get permission from the court to see Sarabjit in jail. I asked the court to give this permission once and for all for any further meeting with my client. The Assistant Advocate General Punjab opposed me stating that Sarabjit is a dangerous criminal and his case has been dismissed by the Supreme Court and that he is in the death cell. I said that the case is still in the Supreme Court. My application for special grant of permission to appear and argue the case is pending. An application of re-consideration is also pending with the Supreme Court. A letter of Sarabjit’s sister has been set praying for re-opening of the case.
I told the Court that one lakh people from India have appealed to the President of Pakistan to pardon Sarabjit. I also quoted from the letter of Sarabjit in which he had written:
Dear Brother, I am writing to see you because you have come back after meeting my family so that I could to know about my domestic affairs through your narration. My heart pines to see you as soon as possible. You can understand this pain.
Upon hearing this the judge remarked, “Why don’t you meet the families of the victims whom he has killed in the bomb blast?” At this I kept quiet because getting in a debate would have been useless. I simply wanted the permission for meeting the man behind the bars.
The judge was trying to embarrass me for nothing. I simply said, “Sir, I am a professional lawyer; meeting my client is my right”. The judge ruled that I could meet my client whenever I wished. Personnel from Special Branch CIA would be present at the time of meeting.
Next day I was congratulated by many people from India especially Sarabjit’s sister. Indian newspapers carried the news as the lead story. The Director of the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan, Rao Abid Hameed greeted me too. Although the decision of the Lahore High Court had no direct bearing on the case, it was definitely a moral victory. I gained strength in Pakistan from this decision. The opponents were suppressed. I felt relaxed and relieved as the external pressure had reduced. The case had emerged from the dead end, it was alive now. I was in constant touch with Sarabjit as these meetings were vital for keeping the case alive. The former lawyer Rana Hameed had given the application for meeting Sarabjit in 2005, which was rejected by the Court.
Barrister Sara Bilal sent me an email regarding the remarks of the judge and decision of the Court:
“Just wanted to say that you are very courageous and praise worthy for defending Sarabjit. I saw in the news yesterday that you were being prevented from meeting him in jail. I am glad to know that you were successful in your application to the Lahore High Court. As per judge making comments asking you to be mindful of the alleged victims, I just wanted to let you know that please do not care about such unprofessional comments and know that there are people out there who support you and believe in your cause.”
Two days later I again went to see Sarabjit in jail. I read out to him Dalbir’s letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Six months lapsed and there was no response to this letter. Similarly there was no feedback to my application for special grant of permission to appear and argue the case of Sarabjit. I had lost all hopes vis-a-vis the Supreme Court this time.
Zubaida Mustafa, who is a well known columnist of Pakistan’s widely read newspaper “Dawn,” contacted me. She had come to know about me through news reports covering Sarabjit’s case. She wished to write a column supporting my cause. I gave all the available detail and apprised her of the current position. I also narrated the visit to India. On 19 August, 2009, the “Dawn” carried a remarkable article giving logic for Sarabjit’s release. I was very pleased with this moral support. In Pakistan this was the first breath of fresh air. Later Zubaida told me that she had to face her share of criticism in the form of letters to her and the editor.
On the morning of 30 December 2009, I was on my way to India one more time. I had received my visa at home this time. Many organisations, institutes and important people had invited me, among them the most notable was Sarabjit Release Committee in Jaipur.
These programmes included press conferences, meetings, rallies and public gatherings. After a day’s stay in Amritsar, I proceeded to Delhi where International Jurist Surat Singh joined me for a press conference. Sarabjit’s sister and daughter were present too. Although Surat Singh criticised the decision of the Pakistan Supreme Court, I purposely remained tight lipped. The Indian law expert could do this but this was not called for by a lawyer from Pakistan. Answering the questions I said, “My sole aim is to get Sarabjit freed from jail, I don’t want to pick up differences at this sensitive stage”. I feel what I am doing is something sagacious, serious and sensitive. Instead of forcing an argument I would rather place emphasis on mercy. I try to prevail upon both the countries to set free each others prisoners on humanitarian grounds. I feel this is a humanitarian issue and ought to be dealt on human basis. I try my best to keep a delicate balance while gradually and cautiously pursuing my goal. The media in Pakistan which was hostile in the beginning is now at least listening to me. I am trying to assert that forgiveness is better than revenge.
The decision to release Sarabjit will be made at Government level but the people of Pakistan should be mentally prepared to accept it with an open heart. We are working towards this amiable milieu. As a lawyer, I emphasised the appeals for mercy and gave arguments against capital punishment.
My target is to get Sarabjit out of jail and take him through Wagah border to India safely. I always have this target in mind and whenever I speak, In India or in Pakistan, I remain very careful. I am making progress very gradually and have been successful so far. The Pakistani media has started listening to me with patience.The people of India have been very prudent. They love Sarabjit but according to the need of the situation. They do not feel hesitant in making mercy petitions for him. We all know that there is no way out except this.
The media has an important role in this regard. I can understand the delicacy of the moment. I do not want to complicate the issue by indulging in one sided criticism. I want to reduce the gulf by linking this case to bilateral relations of India and Pakistan through “Aman Ki Asha”. Just as confidence building measures are necessary for the success of dialogues between India and Pakistan, I am also working at two ends for the release of Sarabjit. I am telling the world that:
The harsh punishment – death sentence — is unjustified when the appeal was dismissed in default because of non-appearance of lawyer. The accused cannot be punished on the conduct of his lawyer.
I am also making people realise that the release of Sarabjit is necessary for improving India – Pakistan relations. Both the countries should consider the causes of other country’s prisoners according to International Human Rights and set them free. This is a human issue and should be considered on a humanitarian basis. I am trying to build international pressure on the Pakistan government.
I appeal to the civilised countries, nations and peoples of the world to play their role for the release of Sarabjit through diplomatic means. The Indian Government and Parliament should raise its voice and get in a direct touch with the Government of Pakistan on this issue. But I think this is not so easy for the Indian government. At such a juncture when Pakistan is facing international pressure due to terrorism, the Indian Government would not want to show any weakness by making a mercy petition. Moreover, the cases of Pakistanis are in the Indian courts on charges of terrorism and the Indian Government would think that Pakistan would also ask for their release. So the whole situation is extremely complicated and we have to tread carefully and cautiously. Awareness has to be created at all international fora as well. I have been preaching the importance of mercy to both the countries. One of my friends in Amritsar was of the view that Sarabjit would be released in 2012. He believed that the Punjab government led by the Akali Dal is supporting the cause of Sarabjit whereas the Congress is in power at the Centre. Elections would be held in 2012 and Congress would gain power in Punjab as well. Then it would play its role for freeing Sarabjit to get the credit all for itself. The differences of the two parties at the Centre and the province is hurting the case of Sarabjit. But this was his personal opinion. I feel that the year 2012 is crucial for release of Sarabjit. Though the Indian Parliament is unmoved, our voice has been heard in the British Parliament.
After speaking to the press in Delhi and Jaipur, we proceeded to Ajmer Sharif to the holy shrine of the great mystic Hazrat Khawaja Moeen Uddin Chishti (RA). The press followed us here too. We arrived in a group at Ajmer Sharif at 11 pm. The administrator (Sajjada Nasheen) received us. It was an out of the world experience for me; I could not control my tears. I said, “It is the blessing of Sarabjit case that I am here at the doorsteps of such a great Saint”.The host praised my efforts and said that they realised the problems that I have faced after taking the case of Sarabjit.
Sarabjit’s sister criticised the Indian government for not playing its role in the release of Sarabjit Singh. Dalbir Kaur also expressed her rage for the former lawyer Rana Hameed.
I gave details of my peace efforts between India and Pakistan and said that the case of Sarabjit has become a challenge for me. It has a direct bearing on the Pakistan – India relations. Sarabjit’s release will promote peace and create an atmosphere conducive to peace and amity between the two countries. A journalist said to me, “My colleagues’ here believe that you are lawyer of the pre-1947 days.”
(To be continued)