On 26/6/2012 around 7 p.m. news broke out that Sarabjit Singh was to be released as Asif Ali Zardari was to commute his death sentence to life which he had already completed as he was in prison for over 14 years he had spent 22 years in jail. Sarabjit Singh was in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore. The news was too good to be true. The decision would have been unpopular in Pakistan.
Ansar Burney, Asma Jehangir and Awaiz Sheikh had tried for Sarabjitâ€™s release. After the news broke out some Maulvis demonstrated outside Lahore Press Club against the release.
There were celebrations in Sarabjit Singhâ€™s family. Markandey Katju, who was out of news for a long time, wrote a letter to Asif Ali Zardari thanking him for the pardon.
Something changed during the night. Around 1 a.m. came the news that Surjeet Singh will be released and not Sarabjit Singh. There was miscommunication. Sarabjit Singhâ€™s family members felt it was a cruel joke. Some said it was a diversionary tactic meant to divert attention from the arrest of Abu Jundal wanted in 26/11 case. Surjeet Singhâ€™s family celebrated at unexpected good news.
This is a lesson for TV channels who get into Breaking News quoting sources. Some channels cancel their regular programmes to run such reports without official word from government.
Khalil Chisti got bail and went to Pakistan. Some hoped Pakistan will release Sarabjit. Pakistan released Surjeet. Previously Pakistan had released Gopal Dass and Kashmir Singh. We do not know how many Indians are in Pakistani jails with no one pleading for their release.
On 9/4/2012 Supreme Court granted bail to Khalil Chisti, a man sentenced to life for murder of one person. It had referred to the goodwill generated by Asif Ali Zardariâ€™s visit the previous day and hoped it would continue. The event makes one wonder whether India is governed by rule of law.
It is immaterial that Khalil Chisti is a Pakistani and the victim is an Indian. It is immaterial that Khalil Chisti is 80 years old and not in good health. What is material is that he is convicted of murder and serves life sentence.
Asif Ali Zardariâ€™s visit should not have had any bearing on Khalil Chistiâ€™s case. When did Khalil Chisti apply for bail? Was it before 9/4/2012 or on 9/4/2012? If it was before 9/4/2012 after how many days the court took up the matter? If Zardari visit had gone wrong and both sides had blamed each other what would have been the verdict on bail plea?
Someone said Khalil Chisti had spent 20 years in jail. If he had been convicted within three years he would have been out of jail. The court was aware of his time in jail. Life sentence does not mean a prisoner has to be released after 14 or 20 years.
Judiciary is for judgments as per law. Judicial pronouncements should not be influenced by political events or public relations. The issue of release of Khalil Chisti was discussed in June 2011. PM had written to Shivraj Patil, Governor of Rajasthan, to release Khalil Chisti. Shivraj Patil had sought legal advice and there the matter rested. PM did not seek presidential pardon to Khalil Chisti.
As a rule people serving life sentence are not granted bail. There are life convicts who get parole or spend time in hospital. Khalil Chisti case can be used by them to get bail. Their lawyers will not mention that Khalil Chisti was 80 years old and was in poor health. They will say he was a life convict and got bail by Supreme Court.