New Delhi, Kulbhushan Jadhav, in whose case the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will deliver its judgement on Wednesday, is not the first Indian national to be held by Pakistan and sentenced to death after being labelled a “spy” and “terrorist”.
Prior to him, Sarabjit Singh, a farmer from Punjab, was also falsely implicated on charges of terrorism after he inadvertently crossed over to Pakistan on August 30, 1990. He was charged with bombings in Lahore and Faisalabad and sentenced to death by a local court in 1991.
His death sentence was upheld in the higher courts, including the Supreme Court, in a fast-track trial which was flawed on several counts. He was tortured to extract a “confession” even when there was no material evidence to link him to the blasts.
The death penalty, however, was repeatedly postponed as mercy petitions were filed for commuting of his capital punishment to life term.
India, while repeatedly demanding his released, maintained that he was no spy and that his was a case of mistaken identity.
Sarabjit’s arrest and his sentencing to death in Pakistan was similar to that of Jadhav, who was kidnapped by Pakistani authorities from Iran and accused of being a “spy” and “terrorist”.
However, in his case, India never approached the ICJ, which it did in the Jadhav matter.
On April 26, 2013, Sarabjit was brutally assaulted and injured critically in Kot Lakhpat jail of Lahore, ostensibly by fellow prisoners, but foul play was suspected.
His family members, who were allowed to meet him in hospital, said the jail authorities were clearly involved in the attack.
India requested Pakistan to release him on humanitarian grounds and let him be treated in India for better treatment but it was turned down.
Appeals were also made for allowing him to be taken to some other country for treatment but again those were not accepted.
On May 2, Pakistan government announced that Sarabjit had succumbed to injuries.
While Sarabjit was alive, a Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney had made repeated attempts to get him justice but the Pakistan government, under pressure from the Army and hardline Islamist groups, refused to budge.
At least five mercy petitions were filed to the Pakistan President, all of which were rejected. However, in 2008, his execution was deferred indefinitely by the Pakistan government.
In June 2012, media reports suggested that the then President Asif Ali Zardari had decided to commute Singh’s death penalty to life term, which would mean his automatic release as the life sentence is of 14 years while he had already been in prison for 22 years.
The Pakistan government was attacked by Islamist hardliners over these reports. Hours later, the government issued a statement that there was a mix up in the name and that instead of Sarabjit Singh, it was one Surjeet Singh who was being released.